The majority of the world tends to have a binary perspective on life – good and bad, black and white, yes and no, male and female…the list goes on. Anything that fails to conform to the vast grey area in between is to be ignored at best, and derided and ridiculed at worst. And this is what is happening to a large section of our population. You’ve seen them at traffic signals asking for money, dancing at weddings and births and being mocked in mainstream cinema.
India’s transgender community has sadly remained an oddity for as long back as anyone can remember, only to be wheeled out for our entertainment and amusement and to be wheeled back into the shadows or for us to roll up our car windows when we refuse to face the harsh reality of their lives. But even that is nothing to the molestation and violence they are subjected to because they have no recourse to justice as the ‘third gender’.
Fortunately, it’s no longer all bad news. Due to initiatives by various state governments and the tireless efforts of transgender activists, long-overdue change is coming. Today, the transgender community is beginning to see a glimmer of hope when it comes to access to things we have all long taken for granted – equal rights, jobs, and even access to public washrooms.
Here are some of the initiatives heralding the much-needed change
1. Right to health
Kerala’s Health Minister K K Shailaja has said that transgender clinics will be set up in all government medical college hospitals. The government is also planning to introduce surgical wings exclusively for transgender persons.
2. Right to public facilities
Sobhan Mukherjee, a 21-year-old from Kolkata, has been actively campaigning for separate public toilets for the transgender community. His efforts have led to four public toilets being set up in the Bansdroni region in Kolkata. This has been seen as a major victory for the LGBTQ community.
3. Right to employment
- a) The transgender community in India is finally emerging into the mainstream workforce owing to initiative by certain organisations.The All-Kerala Self-Financing Schools Federation (AKSFSF)has said they will be hiring transgenders as school teachers and staff. Also in Kerala, the Kochi Metro Rail has become the first government agency to hire 23 transgenders as permanent staff.
- b) Last year,the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Service Selection Board (UPSESSB) opened the posts of lecturers and assistant teachers in colleges and schools for the first time to transgenders.
- c) A year ago, the Tamil Nadu government allowed transgenders to enter the police force. Applicants will be judged under the female category for education, fitness and reservation criteria. Interestingly Tamil Nadu already produced a proud first transgender, sub-inspectorPrithika Yasinilong before the official ruling
- d) Two years ago, Manabi Bandhopadhyaybecame the world’s first transgender school principal. She took charge of the position of associate professor in Bengali at Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya. Sadly, Manabi was forced quit now due to bigoted attitudes.
4. The right to education
Most education institutions in this country are still lagging behind in providing access to an education to the transgender community. However, the Indian Institute of Management has broken the trend and opened its gates to transgender applicants.
5. The right to enterprise
Most of us would not think twice about starting a business when the entrepreneurial bug bites. Life is not quite so easy when you are part of a community that is feared and frowned upon. Which is why it is remarkable that a group of transgenders and disabled people in Chhattisgarh are running a café called Nukkad Teafe, which is a huge success.
The Kerala government is also starting a G-Taxi’ programme, where taxis will be operated excusively by transgenders. It aims to provide them a livelihood and bring them into the mainstream.
6.The right…to rights
In order to empower transgenders across the nation, the central government will soon pass the Transgender Bill, which seeks to empower their community by providing them with a separate identity. Transgenders will soon be categorised as “third gender” and be eligible for welfare benefits including reservations in jobs and education. They will also be able chose their gender through gender reassignment surgery.
State governments too are making significant strides with Odisha becoming the first Indian state to give transgenders social welfare benefits, including a pension, housing and food grains.In 2015, the Kerala government became the first in the country to have an official “State Policy for Transgenders in Kerala 2015” that aimed to protect the rights of transgenders.
It’s high time society looked beyond baseless bias and accepted that it is our individual differences that make us unique but that we must only be judged by our abilities. Last year, a transgender helped a 25-year-old woman deliver a baby. They have also volunteered to help those less fortunate in flood hit areas of West Bengal, when around 45 members of the transgender community distributed relief materials in the two districts. If they can come out in support of their fellow Indians, it’s high time we returned the favour.