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

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The Third Sex

Transgender persons in India want to be treated as citizens. Is this too much to ask for?

Transgender persons (hijras or aravanis) in India are visible in public, ridiculed in crude comedy in popular cinema, shunned and feared but tolerated at rituals where their presence is supposed to be auspicious. Otherwise, they have been non-citizens until very recently, their gender lacking in legal recognition, inhabitants of a zone where official identification is absent. The effects of this have been devastating for the community. Not only can they not avail of social and economic benefits but they cannot participate in any political or socio-economic process which requires an officially endorsed identity. The government’s response to the community’s demands has been sporadic and piecemeal. Recently, Maharashtra organised the first (in the state) conclave for the transgender community in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was inaugurated by the chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan. While Chavan proposed a transgender welfare board, there was silence on their basic and long-pending demands for training in income-generating activities, as also for provision of housing and proper enumeration. Many sexual minorities’ rights activists were sceptical, no doubt, in view of the forthcoming elections.

Official recognition of transgender people is slowly taking shape. The Aadhaar card has a column for marking the sex as transgender. The Delhi Election Commission has been organising registration camps for marginalised sections, including transgender persons. Karnataka’s state transport department has included an “others” box in the application for a driving licence. And, the 2011 Census counted transgender persons, for the first time, separately instead of including them in the “males” category as was being done earlier. However, while these are welcome moves, given the educational and socio-economic backwardness of the bulk of the transgender community and the odds stacked against them, they are simply not enough. Legal rights do not necessarily translate into social and cultural acceptance, and do not automatically lead to recognition by the various arms of the state.

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