Emotions caught in between: the transgender voice unheard

Shambu Jayachandran

Shambu Jayachandran is an Indian writer and activist who writes columns and articles on contemporary social issues. Follow him at facebook.com/shambuahead

The transgender community faces widespread mistreatment not only in India, but all over the world. Starting right from the school, to every nook and cranny of the society that they are required to visit in their journey of life, they have to face immense humiliation and embarrassment only because of their physical and genital non-compliance with their existing gender. In India, a large mass of people expressed wide appreciation, when Manabi Bandopadhyay assumed the post of principal at Krishnagar Women’s College, as the country’s first transgender principal. However, the news article that ran on 18th February in The Times of India, Kolkata on page 7 shook up all once again stoning in the realization that perceptions are still yet to change as far as transgender issues are concerned. The news read-“Manabi Bandopadhyay, on Wednesday met education minister Partha Chatterjee to complain of non-cooperation by her colleagues at Krishnagar Women’s College and stonewalling of her development efforts. In response, the minister promptly dissolved the college governing body and appointed an administrator.”What makes this news important is, it captures the present state of affairs related to the third sex.

The word ‘transgender’ is quite modern, coined around the mid-90s, which simply does not refer to transsexual people. It’s an ‘umbrella’ term that refers to a large cross section of the society, including the transsexual community, cross-dressers, people not paying heed to sexual orientation.

Globally, laws have been implemented to protect the rights of the transgender people, the major ones being the ILO Convention (111) on Discrimination in Employment or Occupation which advocates nil discrimination based on sexual orientation. World Health Organization (WHO) has also published its policy brief on the ‘Transgender people and HIV’ as this community is highly vulnerable to HIV compared to others, and the need for a confidential sexual health screening on a yearly basis for all participating parties.

The transgender community in India

In spite of being a free citizen in independent India, having Madhu Bai Kinnar elected as the first ever transgender Mayor, Padmini the first ever transgender news reader at Lotus TV,the transgender community still suffers from a continual sense of ‘belonging nowhere’. The transgender community in India, colloquially referred to as ‘Hijaras’, ‘Kinnars’, ‘Aravanies’, have faced utter discrimination while trying to be a part of the social, cultural and economic life of their homeland whether at schools, healthcare, employment, immigration, shelter. Statistics reveal that more than one in four transgender people have been deprived of jobs due to this unknown and illogical bias and more than three fourths have to go through a sense of gender identity discrimination, harassment, violation of privacy, the reason primarily being lack of gender status leading to a lack of recognition.

Following are the issues faced by the transgender community-

  1. Inability to provide an accurate gender ID for opening a bank account, or while seeking admission in schools. The process is thoroughly complicated and expensive.
  2. Unacceptable to family and kin and hence numerous transgender people are being thrown out or run away from their homes.
  3. Inaccessibility to healthcare, poorly funded facilities for transgender specific healthcare and inadequate health coverage leading to lack of quality treatment and deprivation.
  4. Higher tendencies of immigration to other countries to seek protection, employment and social status as claimed statistically. The lack of homeland identity bestows upon them the status of undocumented immigrants.
  5. Constant disrespect and discrimination lead to psychological problems among many.

To discuss the sexual rights of the transgendered, it is necessary to understand the concept of ‘sexual orientation’, which refers to the sexual desires, feelings, practices that may be felt towards people of the same sex or different sexes. The transgendered as part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered), do not ask for any ‘special’ or ‘additional’ right; rather, they claim the dignity of possessing similar rights like those of the heterosexual persons.

To counter the issues, the Supreme Court of India has made a maiden move with its order granting a legal recognition to transgender individuals -the birth of the ‘third gender’. Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan, stated, “Recognition of transgendered as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.” The high court has asked the government to include the third gender while allocating public sector jobs and this inclusion would be extended to welfare programmes as well.

Chapter II of ‘The rights of transgender persons bill, 2014’, passed by Rajya Sabha on April 24th, 2015, has guaranteed protection to the transgender persons in the following categories:

  1. Equality and Non-Discrimination, where the transgender persons will enjoy the Right to equality as per Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. The Government will ensure ‘reasonable accommodation’ to them as well.
  2. Rights of the transgender children, where measures would be taken to ensure equal human rights for the transgender children with other children.
  3. Right to Life and Personal Liberty, with the Government taking necessary steps to guarantee dignity and personal liberty of the transgender persons.
  4. Right to live in community, by which the transgender persons will enjoy the right to live in the community with equal choices and will have access to ‘residential and other community support services’.
  5. Right to integrity which would ensure the right to respect to every transgender person for ‘his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others’.
  6. Protection from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  7. Protection from abuse, violence and exploitation, both ‘within and outside the home’.

State Government Initiatives:

Several State Governments have already initiated action showing a positive will to implement the change.

Kerala: State Chief Secretary Jiji Thompson published the document of the ‘State Policy for Transgender in Kerala’ in 2015.The main aim was to prohibit the social stigma and humiliation meted out to the sexually minority group. Department of Social Justice under the Government of Kerala, has come up with policies to enforce constitutional rights of the TG people, taking into account the Supreme Court Judgement. The policy supports the existence of a ‘just society’ with the third gender enjoys equal access to development opportunities. Like any other citizen, they will exercise the right to live with dignity and a life free from violence; will have the right to voice their opinions and participate in major development decisions.

Tamil Nadu: Welfare schemes have been initiated by the Government for which also talks of their inclusion in the mainstream media and film industry. The Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board has been with representatives from different government bodies to addresses the various social protection needs of the transgender community. The transgendered people have been allowed to register themselves in the state employment exchange. Unlike the previous days, the Government has started issuing them ration cards.

West Bengal: To improve the situation and quality of life of the transgenders, West Bengal Transgender Development Board has been set up by the State Government. The major problem is the lack of proper education among the transgender community which has left them more crippled and incapable of participating in ‘social, cultural, political and economic activities’. Emphasis is beinglaid on awareness programmes with the purpose of handling the medical requirements, educational facilities and security issues of the community.

The Nation has made major moves to efficiently deal with the issues of the TG community. The National Expert Committee on Issues Transgender Persons under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, necessitates the issuance of proper instructions at the state and district level, to include the transgender community as the Economically Weaker Section to make them avail the benefits of the Right to Education Act or the RTE. It urges student counseling programmes in schools to make the children aware and sensitive towards the Transgender. A chapter on the TG community may be a part of the education curriculum, besides policies and posters, protests and demonstrations, seminars and discussions for raising mass awareness about the third gender all over the country. Despite SC rulings, sanctioned OBC status and the government’s will to take positive action, the immediate communities and the society at large has a lot of catching up to do. Until we learn to accept them as one of our own, the transgender community will continue to find it difficult to be a part of the mainstream life. Let us move beyond the petty circumference and let these individuals reside with a human identity.


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