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Safira
CHatwal

Safira Chatwal, an 11th-grade student at Marlborough College, England, is passionate about International Relations and contemporary geopolitical issues, especially those focusing on human rights. Her interest began when she was growing up in India, where she observed the nation’s widespread socio-economic disparities.

The Story

On the 2nd of March 2014, when she was eight years old, a group of transgender, intersex, and eunuch people (Hijaras) walked into her home. Before that, she had only seen them on the streets, knocking on car doors and begging for money. Even at that age, she knew that was their only option, as most jobs in India don’t hire people from their community. Yet, they walked into her home, enthusiastically clapping and singing. My little cousin - who was born only a few days prior -  was brought out; my family stripped the infant naked and showed the Hijaras her private parts. After a brief inspection and a heavy payment, they left her home, still singing and clapping away. 

 

Up until that point, she had only been told to stay away from them—to ignore them at all costs; her grandparents would constantly express how dangerous they were. So, why were they allowed to walk into our home? That evening, she asked her grandmother to explain the encounter. According to Hindu mythology, Hijaras contain the power to bless a newborn with fertility and a long, happy life. After they bless a child, they expect a payment in return. Also, they check a baby’s genitalia, and if there is anything wrong or unique about it, they feel entitled to take the child. In fact, lord Ram ordered for Hijaras to be respected. In a Hindu myth (Ramayan), when the lord Ram was exiled to the forest, the entire village escorted him there. After reaching his destination, he instructed the women to go left and the men to go right; however, the Hijaras, who believed they were neither, didn’t know which path they were meant to take. As a result, this community remained in that spot for forty-four years until Ram returned. 
 

A country like India, which believes so strongly in culture and religion, still disrespects and looks down on the Hijara community. Most Indian conventions always have some correlation to religion and culture, so why do people from the Hijara community continue to get discriminated against and excluded? 

 

In response, Safira launched a humble initiative called Project RIGHT (Real Inclusion in Gender Health Treatment), which is an active operation of the Gender Inclusive Health Center in Delhi-NCR. Through this, she aims to increase access to medical resources for the Indian transgender community. To achieve this, she began by creating a survey that the transgender community could use to communicate their healthcare needs, expectations, and desires. In collaboration with Dr. Dang’s lab and the Mithra Trust NGO, she plans to develop healthcare tents that provide general health check-ups; accessible tests like HPV, COVID-19, and Monkey Pox, tests along with vaccinations; and well-being seminars that educate and spread awareness on the problems and solutions to poor mental health. In addition, Safira is using platforms like Spotify and YouTube to publish episodes of her podcast, which includes the journey of Project RIGHT and other stories of Human Rights violations on marginalized groups. Lastly, Safira created her own blog titled ‘Project 1948’ in November 2023 to examine the political effects and evolution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

 

At school, Safira is currently studying 4 A-levels – Physics, Maths, Economics, and Politics. In the tenth grade, Safira took 10 IGCSEs; her average grade was an A*. In addition to her A-levels, Safira began preparing for the grade 8 Public Speaking Exam offered by the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. She is deeply intrigued by the potential of economics and political science disciplines in understanding the intra/inter-national geopolitical and socio-economic relations in the world around her. This interest began in 2022 during her summer Pre-college program at Columbia University, where she took an introductory course for Political Ideologies. The following summer, Safira took the ‘College Writing’ course at CTD (Centre for Talent and Development at Northwestern University), where she learned the analytic and rhetorical skills for persuasive writing. To add to her academic curiosity, Safira took part in the Immerse Education Essay Competition 2023 where she responded to the prompt “What events in the past have we yet to learn from?”, for which she was awarded a 20% scholarship. She also participated in the Northeastern University London Essay Competition 2023, writing on the topic “Is environmental degradation a greater threat to the international community than war?”, where she was selected as a Finalist.

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