ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Comparison of the Legal Rights of Gender Non-Conforming Persons in South Asia

By according legal recognition to transgenders, hijras and other gender non-normative persons, the countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have taken a crucial step to empower these persons and enable them to live a life with dignity and without discrimination. Whether India joins this group of nations or not, will depend on a soon to be announced verdict by the Supreme Court.

There is a remarkable trend occurring in south Asia: the official legal recognition of gender non-normative persons (including persons identifying their gender as outside of the traditional binary of woman or man) and their rights to equality. In 2007, Nepal recognised transgender as a separate gender category and granted equal citizenship to them.1 In 2009 and 2011, Pakistan recognised third gender persons as a category for state official identification documents and ordered the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to issue third gender identity cards to individuals identifying as such.2 More recently in Bangladesh, the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recognised hijras as a third gender for the purposes of government identification and certain entitlements.3 In India, there is currently a case pending before the Indian Supreme Court requesting the recognition of and equal treatment for “transgender” persons. Recently transgenders, hijras and other gender non-conforming persons (GNP) in Delhi (and across the country) voted; many of them wanted to utilise their ballots to fight for equal treatment, employment opportunities and welfare schemes for their community.4

The majority of countries in south Asia have legally recognised GNP through the country’s judicial branch; however, the categories of persons recognised are vast and extraordinarily diverse. In south Asia, there exists a plethora of gender minority groups, including but not limited to hijras, transmen, transwomen, third genders, aravanis, khusras, zenanas, and kojja.5 Each gender non-normative community has its own unique set of characteristics and faces different legal and social barriers in their respective countries. The issue of legal recognition for such groups is, therefore, incredibly nuanced.

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