Understanding the Transgender Community

“Life is what we make of it and the walls we erect to segregate or discriminate are reflective of the big walls in our mindsets. No one had the right to strip anyone’s self-respect and that everyone should be given a fair chance to make a livelihood”.

The word “transgender” – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to us at birth. Although the word “transgender” and our modern definition of it only came into use in the late 20th century, people who would fit under this definition have existed in every culture throughout recorded history.

Etymologically, the term “Transgender’ is derived from two words namely “trans” and “gender”. The former is a Latin which means across or beyond. In the Indian context, the concept of ” tritiyaprakrti” or ” “napunsaka” has also been an integral part of Vedic and Puranic literature. Hijras also had a prominent role to play in the royal courts of the Islamic world, especially in the Ottoman empires and the Mughal Kingdoms of medieval India… However, things changed during the British rule and the legislation called the Criminal Tribes Act was enacted in 1871. Under the act, the local government had to register the names and residence of all the eunuchs residing in that area as well as of their properties. At the time, the community was suspected of kidnapping and castrating children, or of offences under section 377 of IPC. The provision which came into force in 1862 defines “unnatural offences”.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code refers to ‘unnatural offences’ and says whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to pay a fine.

Transgender persons or eunuchs or hijras, they are usually referred to are ostracized humiliated and sneered at during every stage of life. Their life becomes a challenge the moment they are born. Sometimes their own family insisted them to abandon their life. Fear, shame, homeless, depression, discrimination, tend to leave social scars for many of the members of the community. They often face immense physical emotional and sexual abuse both at home and school. Without job and education, many transgender persons or transwomen ( men who express themselves as women) take to sex work. After they enter the community of Hijras they are generally abandoned by their families or they become runaway at an early age. They also have to live with the extortion and violence at the hands of police and the issues related to marriage and adoption they face throughout their lives.

Despite the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the year 1948 which upholds the dignity, equality, respect and rights of all human beings throughout the world, transgender persons denied basic human rights.

They feel blissful when I bless them.

But they mocked me forever more!

The trans community is incredibly diverse. Some trans people identify as trans men or trans women, while others may describe themselves as non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, bigender or other identities that reflect their personal experience.

  • Hijras: Hijras are biological males who reject their ‘masculine’ identity in due course of time to identify either as women, or “not- men”, or “in-between man and woman”, or “neither man nor woman”.
  • Eunuch: Eunuch refers to an emasculated male and intersexed to a person whose genitals are ambiguously male-like at birth, but this is discovered the child previously assigned to the male sex, would be recategorized as intersexed – as a Hijra.
  • Kothi – Kothis are a heterogeneous group. ‘Kothis’ can be described as biological males who show varying degrees of ‘femininity’ – which may be situational. Some proportion of Kothis have bisexual behaviour and get married to a woman.
  • Jogtas/Jogappas: Jogtas or Jogappas are those persons who are dedicated to and serve as a servant of goddess Renukha Devi (Yellamma) whose temples are present in Maharashtra and Karnataka. ‘Jogta’ refers to a male servant of that Goddess and ‘Jogti’ refers to a female servant (who is also sometimes referred to as ‘Devadasi’).
  • Shiv-Shakthis: Shiv-Shakthis are considered as males who are possessed by or particularly close to a goddess and who have feminine gender expression. Usually, Shiv-Shakthis are inducted into the Shiv- Shakti community by senior gurus, who teach them the norms, customs, and rituals to be observed by them.

Transgender people, as a whole, face multiple forms of oppression in this country. Many of them, however, do experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But, a path-breaking achievement in the struggle for transgender rights came on 15 April 2014 by a bench comprising of Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan and Justice A. K. Sikri– delivered a judgement NAlSA Vs Union of India and ors granting legal recognition to transgenders as the third gender as a mandate of social justice which aims at breaking the barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.

The bench ruled that:-

“Recognition of transgender as a third gender is not a social or medical issue, but a human right issue…Transgenders are also citizens of India. It is the right of every human to choose their gender. The spirit of the constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender”.

The National Legal Service Authority believed that Indian TG community were denied their basic human rights. Hence it decided to knock the doors of Supreme Court in 2012 to grant equal protection and rights. This mainly included bringing in a “Third Gender” Category which was distinct from male and female in identity document like the election card, passport, ration card, drivers license. It also included the revising terms of eligibility for transgender persons seeking admission to educational institution and hospitals, amongst others.

The central argument raised by them was that it was the “non-recognition of their gender identity that violated the transgender’s people right to equality equal protection of the law and the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by the constitution”. The authority also found support from the lawyers collective, which moved an intervention application on behalf of Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist from Mumbai and spokesperson for the kinnar community. She is also the first transgender person to write her own autobiography. She also represent the Asia-Pacific at the UN in 2008.

Highlighting the traumatic experiences of the community; Ramchandran, the Lawyer also apprised the court for the restricted access of the community has to education, healthcare and public places. And their predicament is no better than any outcast or untouchable.

Supreme Court directed Centre and State Government to :

  • Grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as the third gender.
  • Take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments.
  • Operate separate HIV Sero-surveillance Centres since Hijras/ Transgenders face several sexual health issues.
  • Seriously address the problems being faced by Hijras/Transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.
  • Take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in the hospitals and also provide them with separate public toilets and other facilities.
  • Take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.
  • Take steps to create public awareness so that TGs will feel that they are also part and parcel of the social life and be not treated as untouchables.
  • Take measures to regain their respect and place in the society which once they enjoyed in our cultural and social life.
  • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 was passed by Parliament on November 26, 2019. The Bill defines a transperson as someone whose gender does not match the one assigned at birth. It prohibits discrimination against them in employment, education, housing, healthcare and other services. 

The Bill allows the self-perception of gender identity. But it mandates that each person would have to be recognised as ‘transgender’ based on a certificate of identity issued by a district magistrate.

Though the trans community has also vehemently rejected the Bill citing several clauses that are detrimental to their fundamental rights.

Even if we look at the historical background of transgenders in India, It analysed that they were treated with disrespect in the past, though not in present.

Indian Constitution is not a gender-specific and fundamental rights are guaranteed to every Indian citizen irrespective of their gender. It declared the “person” in the constitution also includes “transgender”.

There is need to look the positive images of trans people in the society – that continues to make a critical difference for us; so that the trans who are and will become your friends, neighbours, coworkers and family members have an equal chance to succeed and thrive.

We need to support transgender people who experience discrimination as they may feel that they don’t have support from others when making complaints about discrimination or bringing their experiences to authorities, administrators, or others in the position of power.

Within the third gender community, there are many exceptional examples of how members did not let their societal pressure decide their fate.

Shabnam ‘Mausi’ Bano became the first Indian Transwoman to be elected as a member of State Legislative Assembly in Madhya Pradesh serving from 1998-2003. Kalki Subramaniyam was one of the first noted transgender entrepreneur. She is also a writer, actor and activist. She is the founder of Sahodari Foundation which works for the upliftment of Transgender Community. Padmani Prakash, a vocal artist, a first news anchor in India. Madhuri Sarode a transgender person openly tied a knot in the Temple ceremony and now she wants to set it as a precedent for the rest of the community and is keen on getting marriage certificate as Transgender Person. Anjali Lama created a huge flutter in the fashion industry when she became the first transgender model to walk the ramp. In 2014 , Udapi became the first transgender employee to work at ThoughtWorksIndia and many more examples are there. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation has also introduced transgender as the third gender option besides male and female in ticket reservation and cancellation forms.

Recognition and acceptance is a long drawn process in our society. What gets acceptance in a paper does not necessarily get acceptance in life.

Trapped inside the body

Not of their choice.

They stood looking in a mirror

Right infront of it

Wondering when will the society

Be liberated enough to accept them.

A lot has changed but there is a long way to go. A shift of thought process and societal mindsets are required to bring about change…💫

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