Transgenders : Struggling for identity, equality and dignity

Er  Prabhat  Kishore
The revolutionary decision  of the Bihar Government  to recruit transgenders as sub-inspectors and constables in the State Police Force has opened  doors of opportunities to fulfil their aspirations. After the apex Court judgement in 2014 for mainstreaming of transgenders, this inherent commitment reinforces the outlook of the government regarding their long-awaited acceptance in the society.
Transgenders are the most marginalized section of our society. They are bereft of their fundamental rights and privileges. Their exclusion in every walk of life, whether it is social, religious, cultural, political, professional, educational, health care or any other sector, has made their life miserable.
Transgender (TG) is basically an umbrella term that includes the person whose own sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth. They include trans-men or trans-women (whether or not such a person has undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery or hormone therapy or  other such therapy), genderqueers, person with intersex variations and a number of socio-cultural identities such as Kinnar, Hijra, Aravani, Jogta, Shivshakti etc. These people are often discriminated against  due to their transgender identity, expression or behaviour.
This group of humans  are rejected first by their parents and then by the entire society. They are deprived of their right of inheritance and have to leave their parental house. Accordingly, they have none to rely on; other than like their own physical and mental group. Due to lack of social acceptance, inaccessibility of education, their reluctance to get an appointment in a formal job and so many reasons; they ultimately trap in to unemployment or under-employment. For livelihood, they have to struggle at every step and sometimes forced to engage in uncivil commitment by begging, snatching or even prostitution.
Non-recognition of the identity of Hijra/transgender persons denies them equal protection of the  law, thereby leaving them extremely vulnerable to harassment, violence and sexual assault in public spaces, at home and in jail, also by the police. Sexual assault, including molestation, rape, forced anal and oral sex, gang rape and stripping is being committed with impunity.
Our society seldom realise the trauma, agony, and pain which the transgender people undergo nor appreciates their innate feelings, specially of  those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. They are forced to live in low self-esteem, low income and poor social dignity. These people are so much neglected that the house owners avoid renting them as they think that other residents will feel discomfort. Transgenders face fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc.
Although, in some cases, there are complaints from people about transgender’s rough behavior, objectionable comments and forceful begging. At some places, they are seen blackmailing, and even keeping children hostage for money. They become ruthless and barbaric for meeting their needs. But such rare incidences can be dealt with  under already prevailing laws.
In India, the transgenders have mythological and historical background as they had a glorious semi-scared status in the society. The concept of “Tritiya Prakriti” or “Napunsaka” (to denote absence of procreative capability) has been an integral part of Ved and Puran. They have been described with significant roles in Mahabharat and Ramayan. Lord Ram has sanctioned them power to confer blessings to people on auspicious occasions of marriages, childbirths and inaugural functions; which later on transformed into a custom “Badhai”, whereupon the Hijras sing, dance and bless. In Kurukshetra Yuddha of Mahabharat, the decisive role was played by Shikhandi, a transgender, in the killing of Bhishma Pitamah by Arjun.  Aravan, the son of Arjun and Nagkanya, had also the association with transgender Mohini  (transformed female form of Lord Krishna) before he self-sacrificed himself to Goddess Kali for the victory of Pandav.
The transgenders had a  prominent role in the royal court of the  Islamic world, particularly in the  Ottoman empire and Mugal rule. Jain literatures also contain a reference to TG which mentions the concept of “Psychological Sex”. Actually their situation changed drastically during British Rule in 1871, when the entire Hijra community has been legislated as a criminal tribe. With the passage of time and changes in the  social & cultural context, the majority of them are now parting away from their traditional profession.
In India, the Supreme Court, in its landmark judgement on 15th April 2014, have accorded transgenders as the “Third Gender” for the purpose of safeguarding their fundamental rights and declared them as socially and economically backward citizens. An “Expert Committee”, constituted under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MOSJE) for in-depth study of transgenders, has recommended various measures to ameliorate their problems. This Ministry has been made the  nodal agency to accelerate the welfare works with convergence of various Ministries and their schemes.
Schemes advocated by the committee for transgender consist of loans with 25% subsidy to enable them to take self-employment ventures, pension scheme for 40-60 years age group, and grant-in aid to voluntary organization working for their empowerment. There are also recommendations for setting up counselling services to cope up with trauma & violence crisis, involvement of Anganwadi workers and Self Help Groups on TG issues, action against delinquent police officials in case of violation of their fundamental rights, making work place sexual harassment policy transgender inclusive, and ensuring housing assistance schemes for them.
In the education sector,  the government has to provide scholarships, fee-waiver, free hostel and other facilities at subsidized rates. An  anti-discrimination cell to monitor discrimination against TG will be formed and contents on TG will be included in the curriculum of adolescent education. Provision of Career Guidance and Online Placement support, vocational-training, surveys to ascertain their population are also to be done for their well-being.  Under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP) has been constituted in 2020 for advising, monitoring, reviewing &co-ordinating the policies as well as redressing their grievances. At district level screening committee,  headed by District Magistrate, has been constituted for the purpose.
Along with government initiatives to root out the social stigma faced by the transgender community, intensive public awareness is needed.  Some Filmmakers and TV show producers also have come forward to highlight such relevant and serious issues through serials like “Shakti – Astitwake Ehsaaski” and movies like Arddhanari,  Darmiyaan, Daarya, Shabnam Mausi, Nannu Avanalla Avalu, NjanMarykutty.
Besides India, transgenders  have  also been  recognised as Third Gender in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. In the USA, people are struggling to legally recognize genders outside the male-female binary (such as Ay-gender, gender-fluid and pan-gender).
Transgenders are neither physically handicapped nor mentally disabled; but only lack social identity in their life. For an educated advanced society, if we want to flourish, the only  way is to include the entire third gender group into mainstream activities by making them empowered, educated, skilled and Atmanirbhar citizens.

The author is a technocrat & academician. He holds Master in Engineering from MN Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj