Though the Transgender Persons (Protection of rights) Bill 2016 is a welcome move, unless society changes its perception and abuse of transgenders, little progress will be made so that they lead a life of equality
By Usha Rani Das
“Taka de chokra (Give me money, boy).” Wearing a shabby salmon-coloured salwar kameez, 40-year-old Anju begs near Connaught Place, earning Rs 100-200 per day. She arrives there every evening and leaves late at night. Though Connaught Place has many beggars like her, she stands out. She is a transgender.
In search of their identity and abandoned by their families, most transgenders resort to begging or sex work as they are unable to find regular work. However, the new Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 passed by the cabinet in July brings good news to a community that has been discriminated against and abused for ages.
The Bill states: “Whoever compels or entices a transgender person to indulge in the act of begging or other similar forms of forced or bonded labour other than any compulsory service for public purposes imposed by Government shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years and with fine.”
It recognizes the rights of transgenders as a third gender, gives them identity and accepts them in all public spheres of life–education, healthcare and politics. The Bill has been welcomed by the community and activists. Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist, posted this on social media: “I thank the Modi Government specially the ministry of social justice and empowerment. Special thanks to Arun Jaitleyji to support cabinet minister Thaawarchand Gehlot for passing the transgender bill in the cabinet. India is making history and we are the global leader in the trans movement.” Anjali Gopalan founder and executive director of Naz Foundation (India) Trust told India Legal: “Now there is something for the community to fall back on.”
Kochi Metro will hire transsexuals in housekeeping, customer care and crowd management. In another remarkable move, two transgenders voted in the assembly elections in Kerala, a first for them.
It was in 2014 that the Supreme Court recognized transgenders as the “third gender”. In National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India and others, Justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri observed: “We, therefore, declare Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as ‘third gender’ for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature. Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.”
This long-awaited victory led to pride marches by transgenders all over the country. Hundreds of them came out in the open and embraced their sexuality. It was during this time that Laxmi too came out. Though the road had been rough after that, Laxmi has attained national recognition and is seen at various forums for transgenders.
Realizing that our education system plays a major role in creating awareness, Meera Parida, a transgender from Odisha told India Legal that she was in talks with the women and child development ministry to include the definition of third gender in the syllabus.
This community is slowly entering the mainstream, be it politics, entertainment or academics. Following a suggestion by the Kochi police, Kochi Metro will hire transsexuals in housekeeping, customer care and crowd management. In another remarkable move, two transgenders voted in the assembly elections in Kerala, a first for them. Hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Surya, a mimicry artist in TV comedy shows, exercised her franchise at a booth in Vattiyoorkavu constituency, while Suji voted in Nattika in Thrissur. The community also contested elections in Tamil Nadu. C Devi, 33, contested against AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa.
The eastern states are not far behind either. Riya Sarkar became the first transgender to man a polling booth in this year’s assembly elections in West Bengal. A teacher at Dum Dum Prachya Bani Mandir for boys, she came dressed in a sari. She reportedly said that she wanted to “make sure” that everyone addresses her as “madam”. She stated: “All my life people have made fun of me; now I am confident enough to assert myself.” On the other hand, Manabi Bandopadhyay became the first trans-sexual to become the principal of a college, Krishnagar Women’s College in West Bengal.
The eastern states are not far behind either. Riya Sarkar became the first transgender to man a polling booth in this year’s assembly elections in West Bengal. A teacher at Dum Dum Prachya Bani Mandir for boys, she came dressed in a sari.
Realizing that our education system plays a major role in creating awareness, Meera Parida, a transgender from Odisha told India Legal that she was in talks with the women and child development ministry to include the definition of third gender in the syllabus. Sanjeev Bhatnagar, a lawyer who highlighted the cause of the Kinnar community and stated that they are the most deprived group of the third gender, said: “They don’t have to hide anymore. This bill would increase awareness about the third gender in society.”
ABUSE AND HARASSMENT
However, these victories have not been easy to come by. Two years after the Supreme Court judgment, they are still subjected to endless cruelty. Bandopadhyay was beaten up and threatened before the state assembly elections by professors of Krishnagar College. She was also harassed in a college in Jharkhand where she was previously a professor. She told India Legal: “How does it even matter?” She said that unless there were significant changes in practice, it didn’t matter what law or bill is passed. For someone who had to face years of ruthless abuse by her family and society, she sees little hope in this step. She says that reservation is the only way to lead a fair life with equal scope in education and employment.
Bhatnagar too said that more needs to be done for the community to enjoy full constitutional rights. “Simply announcing a policy will not put an end to their struggle. In every red light area, you will see at least one transgender. The traditional image of a Kinnar is still at the crossroads. We have to change our approach. It should start at the village level. Though a bill as been passed, there are no proper toilet facilities for the third gender!”
Meera Parida said: “The Bill is discriminatory as it does not include Transgenders Marriage Act. It also excludes the adoption criteria for single persons.” When she was eight, she dressed up in her sister’s clothes and liked playing with girls. When she hit puberty, she was attracted to boys. Since then, she realized that her body did not match her psychology. She used to visit the Hijra community in the neighborhood and identified herself with them. When her parents came to know of it, they got her married to a man but it ended in divorce. “Even my sister’s in-laws abandoned her when they came to know about me,” she said. It was in 2004 when she, along with few others of her community, found Sakha Trust and got recognition from national and international welfare organizations that people started giving her respect.
Krittika Singh, who works at a BPO, feels the Bill is misleading. She said: “The Bill lacks the definition of self-identity which was present in the 2015 Bill. It shows the stereotypical attitude of the government. It does not define how one justifies one’s identity.” Krittika who underwent a sex change operation is fighting a case in the Delhi High Court regarding changing her name. Her current identity card is three years old and not valid due to her operation. The entire process of getting her name changed officially will be completed by mid-2017. “Without a proper ID proof, I cannot travel in trains or planes or use public toilets,” she said. Worse, she was asked by her landlady to vacate the house when she came to know about her identity.
Gopalan too feels the definitions given in the 2016 Bill are “hazy”. “Clarity needs to be brought in. Law enforcement and government officials should ensure proper implementation of transgender rights. No one would want them to beg, but what viable options do they have?”
Other forms of oppression too are faced by transgenders—social exclusion, especially in the field of health care, employment and education. A study by the United Nations Development Program-India on Hijras/transgenders in India, “HIV Human Rights and Social Exclusion”, states that HIV and sexually transmitted infections are now increasingly seen in Hijras/transgenders.
The estimated size of men who have sex with men (MSM) and male sex workers in India (presumably includes Hijras/TG communities) is 2,352,133 and 2,35,213 respectively. HIV prevalence among the MSM population was 7.4 percent against the overall HIV prevalence of 0.36 percent. It was also reported in recent studies that Hijras/TG women have indicated a very high HIV prevalence of 17.5-41 percent.
This is enough reason to pay more attention to this community.
Lead picture: Eunuchs dance to the Bollywood numbers on city roads during ‘Maha Rally’ as part of their ‘Akhil Bhartiya Manglamukhi Maha Sammelan’ in Jammu on Friday. Photo: UNI