Episode 38: Working with Waria — A Conversation with Dr. Sandeep Nanwani

In this episode, Stephanie chats with Dr. Sandeep Nanwani, a young Indonesian doctor who is currently getting his Master’s degree in Global Health Delivery at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. Sandeep was recently featured on an episode of NPR‘s All Things Considered with the “waria” community in Yogjakarta. “Waria” is a culturally specific Indonesian term derived from the words “wanita” (woman) and “pria” (man),” and has been translated rather imperfectly as “transgender women,” and both Stephanie and Sandeep question the accuracy of this translation. Sandeep has been working with this community primarily by providing access to health care for them and other marginalized and invisible voices in the streets of Indonesia. We talked about how in order to understand the waria and their stories, you have to also understand both the social and the economic circumstances that impact their everyday lives, from their daily poverty to the informal economics of sex work & street busking that has come to define them.

We also chatted about Sandeep’s own journey into becoming a doctor and what led him to his current focus on researching cases of extreme mental illnesses among the homeless in Indonesia. Finally, we talked about how politically things have gotten more difficult for the “waria” as well as the wider LGBT community, in part because extremist groups have fostered this idea of the LGBT as a dangerous ghost/force that can threaten the sanctity and safety of children and families. Although facing many difficulties, both institutionally and emotionally, Sandeep continues to work extremely hard to ensure that groups like the waria are taken care of and their voices heard — and we’re extremely humbled and grateful to have been able to share his story and the stories of the waria.

Thanks for listening!

P.S. you can check out Sandeep in an episode of our former guests Afu and Wikan’s project, Frame & Sentences, here.

For those interested in learning more about the topic, we’ve provided links to resources as well as other recommended readings.
Transgender Women Of Indonesia Have A Champion In A 26-Year-Old Doctor — Sandeep’s feature in NPR’s All Things Considered
The physician as an advocate and anthropologist — an interview with Sandeep by Harvard University
Absent Loves: Unlearning Heteronormativity in Indonesia — critiquing the bias towards heterosexual nuclear families in Indonesia
Tales of the Waria: Inside Indonesia’s Third-Gender Community — courtesy of Huffington Post
Tales of the Waria — the documentary mentioned in the above Huffington Post link
Waria at twilight: the remarkable old age home for trans Jakartans — courtesy of the Guardian
LGBT Rights Under Siege in Indonesia — looking back at 2016 as the year of living dangerously as LGBT