Transgender people are individuals of any age or sex whose appearance, personal characteristics or behaviour differ from stereotypes about how men and women are ‘supposed’ to be. Transgender is a term that describes transvestite and transsexuals, which is gender identification not sexual orientation.
When a baby is born, a doctor, parent or birth attendant announces the arrival of one or more “girl/girls” or “boy/boys”. That moment dictates multiple aspects of our lives. It is also something that most of us never question. But some people’s gender evolves differently and might not fit rigid traditional notions of female or male. Transgender people have existed in every culture, race and class since the story of human life has been recorded. Therefore, we can say that transgender people are no strangers to society. The concept of not feeling comfortable in one’s birth-assigned gender has been around since man can remember. The contemporary term ‘transgender’ arose in the mid 1990s from the grassroots community of gender-different people.
Transgender people have been discriminated for long enough. They are still looked at as people of an alien-like nature as if they are some non-human species. Discrimination is their major problem because of which they face many other problems like unemployment, lack of educational facilities, homelessness, lack of medical facilities like HIV care and hygiene, depression, hormone pill abuse, tobacco and alcohol abuse, penectomy and problems related to marriage and adoption.
In India there are a host of socio-cultural groups of transgender people like hijras/kinnars and other transgender identities like Shiv-shaktis, Jogtas, Jogappas, Aradhis, Sakhi etc and there are many more. The Constitution of India provides for the fundamental rights to equality and tolerates no discrimination on the grounds of sex, caste, creed or religion. The Constitution also guarantees political rights and other benefits to every citizen.
But the third community (transgenders) continues to be ostracised. The Constitution affirms equality in all spheres but the moot question is whether it is being applied. The transgender community is in a constant battle as they have to fight oppression, abuse and discrimination from every part of the society, whether it’s their own family and friends or society at large. The life of transgender people is a daily battle as there is no acceptance anywhere and they are ostracised from the society and also ridiculed.
However, the Supreme Court of India in its pioneering judgement by the division bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri in National Legal Services Authority Vs Union of India recognised the third gender along with the male and female. By recognising diverse gender identities, the court has busted the dual gender structure of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ which is recognised by the society. Justice KS Radhakrishnan told the Supreme Court while handing down the ruling that “Recognition of transgenders as third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.”
The Supreme Court has given certain directions for the protection of the rights of the transgender persons by including a third category in documents like the election card, passport, driving license and ration card and for admission in educational institutions, hospitals etc. Human rights are basic rights and freedoms which are guaranteed to a human by virtue of him being a human which can neither be created nor can be abrogated by any government. It includes the right to life, liberty, equality, dignity and freedom of thought and expression.
The transgender community faces stigma and discrimination and therefore has fewer opportunities as compared to others. They are hardly educated as they are not accepted by the society and therefore do not receive proper schooling. Even if they are enrolled in an educational institute, they face harassment and are bullied every day and are asked to leave the school or they drop out on their own. It is because of this that they take up begging and sex work. Very rarely does a skilled individual from this community get into formal employment due to the policy of hiring only from either the male or female gender. Even if they do, they are ridiculed and ostracised and hence forced to leave their jobs.
Section 377 of IPC criminalises same sex relations among consenting adults. This is a colonial era law which makes the transgender community vulnerable to police harassment, extortion and abuse. In Jayalakshmi Vs State of Tamil Nadu, Pandian, a transgender was arrested on charges of theft by the police. He was sexually assaulted in the police station which ultimately led him to immolate himself.
Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, a hijra, explained her trauma as growing up as a child, “I felt different from the boys (as I was born as a boy) of my age and was feminine in my ways on account of my feminity. From an early age, I faced repeated sexual harassment, molestation and sexual abuse, both within and outside the family. Due to being different, I was isolated and had no one to talk to or express my feelings while I was coming to terms with my identity. I was constantly abused by everyone as a ‘chhakka’ and ‘hijra”. Later, he joined the hijra community in Mumbai as he identified with other hijra and for the first time in her life, she felt at home.
Similar life experiences have been experienced by other members of the transgender community. Their vulnerabilities force them to compromise on their health and safety.
The recent scenario is that the Right of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 was introduced in Rajya Sabha and was passed on 24th April 2015 unanimously, with cross-party support. 24th April is celebrated as Transgender Day following the passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha .The rights guaranteed under the Bill are mostly substantive rights such as the right to equality and non-discrimination, life and personal liberty, free speech, to live in a community, integrity, along with protection from torture or cruelty and abuse, violence and exploitation. There is a separate clause for transgender children. The Bill envisages setting up a number authorities and forums-National and State Commissions for Transgender Persons.
As a society we should take action to end discrimination against transgender people. We should provide emotional support for the transgender and gender non-conforming people we are in touch with rather than discriminating them and raise voice for them if we find someone treating them poorly. Make people aware that they are also humans and not aliens and should be treated like other people, create fair work places for them, help them wherever they need social support. We all need to work together to end this discrimination and try to change the attitude of society towards them. Everyone born on earth has equal right to everything present here and no one can be discriminated on any basis.