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The remarkable journey of India's first 'natural' trans parents

August 22, 2023
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#India, #trans rights, #LGBTQ+
by:Diwash Gahatraj
Ziya and Zahad are shaping a new narrative of love and family in India. A court decision in their case could alter the landscape of trans rights in the country.

In July, the Kerala High Court in India received the country's very first petition of its kind. The petitioners were transgender parents who were seeking a modification to their child's birth certificate. Their request was to be identified as 'parent' rather than as 'father' or 'mother.'

The couple, who live in Kozhikode, a coastal town in the southern part of India, told the court that the authorities had issued a birth certificate for their child labelling Ziya Paval (a trans woman) as the father and Zahad (a trans man) as the mother. 

They had initially approached the officials at the Kozhikode Corporation (municipal body) to request these changes due to the unique circumstances where the child's biological mother identifies as "male" and the biological father identifies as "female."

"The birth certificate has the potential to create unnecessary confusion for people who come across it," Padma Lakshmi, one of the legal representatives in the case, told FairPlanet. "It may also cause embarrassment for the third petitioner, baby Zabiya, in future. Despite this, their plea was rejected by the Corporation, resulting in the issuance of a birth certificate identifying them as the child's father and mother."

Lakshmi is part of a three-member lawyers’ team who have filed the petition on the couple's behalf. The other two lawyers are Mariamma A.K. and Ipsita Ojal. 

"This is a first-of-its-kind case in the country, and can set a strong precedent for other future parents," she added.

Choosing to break away from traditional gender norms, Ziya and Zahad embarked on a less conventional journey to parenthood, especially within the context of India's transgender community. Zahad, originally registered as female at birth, now identifies as male, while his partner, 21-year-old Ziya, was originally recorded as male at birth but now identifies as female. They have been living as a man and a woman for several years, though their path has not been without its challenges.

Against all odds

Both Ziya and Zahad, like many transgender individuals in India, experienced strained relationships with their own families. It was this deep desire to create a family of their own that drove them to conceive a child, despite facing significant challenges and obstacles, as Ziya explained.

"Our birth families never embraced us for who we truly are," she said. "The two of us were determined to establish a new family."

Both of them left their respective homes after announcing their decision to undergo gender-affirming surgery. Ziya admitted to having severed ties wither her traditional Muslim family in Kondotty, a town in the Malappuram district of Kerala state.

"Zahad's family provides more encouragement and possesses a broader perspective compared to mine; he maintains communication with his mother," she added.

Zahad, hailing from a Christian family living in the coastal region of Thiruvananthapuram, also faced considerable difficulty in gaining acceptance as he pursued his transition to become a man. Nonetheless, he maintained some level of contact with certain members of his family.

The two met on social media while Ziya was living in a shelter home for trans people in Kozhikode. They soon fell in love and decided to have a baby together. 

India is currently ranked 43rd on the global LGBTQ+ equality index. But the unique story of Ziya and Zahad has the potential to make a positive impact on India's future ranking in this regard. "Our love story is an unconventional one," Ziya shared, characterising it as " a journey of defiance, self-discovery and mutual support."

Zahad was in the midst of his gender reassignment journey to become a man when he and his partner decided to conceive a child. At that point, he had already had a mastectomy and was undergoing hormone therapy which deepened his voice, facilitated the growth of facial hair and increased his muscularity. His female reproductive organs, however, had not yet been surgically removed.

At the age of 23, Zahad and his partner became India's first natural parents within the transgender community in the country to welcome a child.

Five-month-old baby Zabiya Zahad is growing up in a rented house in Kozhikode with mummy Ziya, a Bharatnatyam dancer, and papa Zahad, a manager at a mall. 

"Our birth families never accepted us as we are. So both of us wanted to have a family and have a baby like any heterosexual couple," added Ziya.

The couple describes their journey as a roller coaster ride, especially after their pregnancy photos on Instagram went viral. They even received a personal congratulations call from the State Health Minister, Veena George, in celebration of their childbirth. But alongside the positive attention, they also had to confront cyberbullying and negativity.

Bumpy road ahead for trans parents

"Life as a trans person is a tough one, and to be a transgender parent is tougher," said Gauri Sawant, a Mumbai-based transgender activist.

"Just a simple word 'parent,' instead of 'father' and 'mother' in the birth certificate will make a big positive change in the lives of not just trans people but also for people who adopt a child or opt for surrogacy," Sawant added.

A trans person herself, Sawant adopted her daughter when the latter was four years old.   

In India, the adoption process is governed by the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, which permits only cisgender men and women, or single individuals, to adopt children within the country.

India achieved a notable milestone by formally recognising transgender individuals as the 'third gender' through the enactment of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019. This legislation not only established 'transgender' as a legally recognised identity but also introduced an official third gender option on identification documents. Similar measures have also been implemented in Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

But despite these legal advancements, social acceptance of India's transgender community remains a far cry. According to a 2018 study conducted by the National Human Rights Commission, an alarming 96 per cent of transgender individuals in the country encounter job rejections, which often force them into low-paying or demeaning employment opportunities.

For over 4,000 years, India has acknowledged individuals who do not identify strictly as male or female, referring to them as 'hijras.' According to the 2011 census data, nearly half a million Indians identified as hijras.

And yet despite the visibility of transgender individuals in India's pop culture, with references even in ancient Hindu mythology and appearances in films, the stark reality remains that this community continues to experience marginalisation and frequently resides on the fringes of society.

Experts highlight that a significant number of transgender individuals are abandoned by their birth families, leading to homelessness and increased vulnerability. The lack of family support compounds the already substantial challenges they face. Those who are abandoned by their families or choose to leave due to enduring physical and psychological abuse often find themselves forced into begging or resorting to sex work as a means of survival.

"Progress has been made towards inclusivity and equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, there is still no consensus on accepting same-sex marriage and adoption rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals," Reshma Prasad, an Indian trans person and rights activist, told FairPlanet. 

Reflecting on the impact of Ziya and Zahad as change makers, Prasad said, "The court's decision in favour of changing the birth certificate status to 'parents' will clear a lot of confusion for ordinary people who do not understand gender binaries." 

The next hearing in their case is scheduled for September of this year.

Image by R Barraez D´Lucca.

Article written by:
diwash photo
Diwash Gahatraj
Embed from Getty Images
The couple told the court that the authorities issued a birth certificate registering Ziya as the father and Zahad as the mother.
Embed from Getty Images
Padma Lakshmi, a legal representatives in the case said, “The birth certificate has the potential to create unnecessary confusion for people who come across it. It may also cause embarrassment for the third petitioner, baby Zabiya in future."
Embed from Getty Images
“Progress has been made towards inclusivity and equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, there is still no consensus on accepting same-sex marriage and adoption rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals."