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Above: Activists in Chennai protesting against the Transgenders Protection of Rights Bill/Photo: UNI

Despite all that Tamil Nadu has done for Transgenders, the Madras High Court has asked whether the present government can reserve government jobs for them

By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai  

In a move replete with noble intentions, the Madras High Court has issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government following a petition on transgenders. The petition wanted directions to be issued to the government to create special reservation for the transgender community in government jobs. It was filed by P Sudha, a Chennai-based transgender activist.

The petition said: “Reservation is provided for the upliftment of certain communities and women in some cases as they were oppressed and denied equal opportunities for several decades. Though transgender community people have been identified as the third gender, no proper welfare measures are being taken by the state for the community’s upliftment or empowerment. The transgender community is in a constant battle with oppression and discrimination from all sections of society.” It added: “Providing reservation to the transgender community was the need of the hour. This reservation could change the face of the community and hence I pray the court direct the state government to come up with a policy to provide reservation to the transgender community as a special case in government appointments.”

However, Tamil Nadu has been a frontrunner in the welfare of  transgenders. Both the AIADMK and the DMK had initiated several welfare schemes for them. In 2008, the DMK government had established a dedicated Transgender Welfare Board. Also in 2008, Tamil Nadu became the first state to grant third gender status to transgenders. Even the Congress went out of its way for the community when its president, Rahul Gandhi, appointed Apsara Reddy, a Chennai-based transwoman and activist, as a general secretary of its women’s wing.

The Tamil Nadu government is at present giving a monthly pension of  Rs 1,000 to transgender persons aged 40 and above. “The tragedy is that very few transgenders live beyond 60 years as our average lifetime is of 40 years. This is due to health complications arising out of surgeries that most transgenders undergo for specific physiological problems,” said transgender Shanthi.

One of the major problems transgenders face is housing. “Landlords won’t easily accept us as tenants. Even if they do, we face several problems on a day to day basis. Suddenly, without any reason, the landlord will ask us to vacate immediately,” revealed another transgender, Jayanthi. She said that late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had done a lot to help them. “Before the end of her tenure and in the run-up to the assembly elections in 2016, Jayalalithaa had allotted 260 furnished flats exclusively for the transgender community in northern Chennai. For the first time in our lives, this enabled several of our people to live together safely.”

Most of the transgenders India Legal spoke to said that more than the AIADMK government, it was the DMK government that had taken many positive steps for their welfare. “Apart from the creation of the Transgender Welfare Board in 2008, the decision to recognise us as a third gender was taken by the DMK government. It also introduced a pension scheme and issued identity cards to all those who registered their names with the Trans­gender Welfare Board. While it is true that the Jayalalithaa government allotted 260 houses to us, she could have done more. We are disappointed by the overall attitude of the AIADMK government,” said another transgender.

In 2014, the Supreme Court granted third gender status to the transgender community. The Court also said the centre and state governments should grant them the same benefits that the Most Backward Communities (MBC) enjoy. In Tamil Nadu, the transgender community is included in the MBC quota.

Despite all these measures, an important development in the past seven to eight years forced a sizeable number of transgenders to return to the sex trade in Tamil Nadu. This was due to the stoppage of funds to several non-governmental organisations, both by the government and private players, who were working in prevention and awareness generation programmes on HIV/AIDS.

A Subashree, who worked with an NGO, told India Legal: “From the middle of the 1990s to 2011, there were many HIV/AIDS awareness programmes in Tamil Nadu involving many NGOs. Though they received funds from both inside and outside India, the state government’s support was crucial. Hundreds of transgenders went around the state, working among sex workers and other vulnerable groups including truck drivers, and created awareness about HIV/AIDS. For this work, they were paid decently. But after the dwindling of funds to NGOs and the state government’s shrinking interest in the issue, the transgender community was suddenly left in the lurch. As they don’t have any other talent or education, they went back to the age-old profession.”

It’s not clear what stand the Tamil Nadu government is going to take on the present issue of reservation in government jobs for transgenders. There was a move in 2013 when a petitioner approached the Madras High Court with the same prayer. At that time, the Tamil Nadu government told the High Court that reservation for them was not legally possible. Instead, it listed the welfare sche­mes initiated by the government for the welfare of transgenders.

It remains to be seen whether in six years there has been a change of heart in the Tamil Nadu government.

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