Beyond Binaries

Dec 31 2017. New Year’s Eve…

Everywhere and everyone is in a festive mood…friends, family and fun. An ideal world even though it exists only in the periphery. Waiting for my turn at the mirror I took a quick peep to my FB account. Smiling and scrolling, I tapped like on many posts and suddenly stopped at a post that wiped out the smile from my face. The suicide of Ananya Krishnan a transgender activist. The trans woman who was an inspiration to many like her and who held inspirational dreams but finally, had to succumb to societal rebuttal. The society that includes me….

Transgenders, an umbrella term that encompasses anyone whose identity or behavior does not adhere to socially accepted gender standards. Yet, the image that comes to average Indian is of a man heavily made up and wrapped in sari found begging or soliciting in traffic signals and trains with a pronounced sexual body language.

The despise and loath are showered on them with violence even at the slightest hint of a provocation.

The supremacists encash on the widespread ignorance of the populace to harbor and nurture the hate towards queer people.

In India, there are various factors that enhance the intolerance and hatred towards transgender community and other sexual minorities.

The belief that being Transgender is a choice — It is by far the most compelling factor for the hatred towards the transgender community. A major biased approach where it is believed that a transgender can be corrected and in the act to normalize them, people resort to rejection, oppression and often sexual assault including rape as a part of curative practice. Various scientific researches have proved that being transgender is not one’s choice.

Illiteracy among the large section of people in this part of the world remains unaware of the scientific advancement and the medical reason for this condition and thus is not able to accept transgender as part of a natural phenomenon.

We live in a society where myth supersedes reality and even in the circle of the learned, superstition reigns. The superstition that surrounds transgender community is they are born as a result of their parents “karma” who have invited upon themselves the wrath of God. And thus, they are impure and evil.

“‘Evil’ need to be eliminated for better society” — when this norm runs in the mind even of the learned person it is not surprising that people of this community are haunted tortured and murdered for who they are.

How many of us really have a person from this community as our friend?

I am sure, hardly any one of us. If we ever had one trans person while we were young then that person would have faded into oblivion and out of anyone’s reach and might have joined communities where they are accepted as they are. Thus, they are driven out of the mainstream and get marginalized. We, as a society are responsible for their isolation and as a result we hardly have any trans-individuals as our friends. In effect, we deny ourselves the opportunity to know and realize that they are as human as we are and their needs aren’t different from ours. Things that we take for granted like, family, relations, friendship all elude them.

Though there is a mass of socio-cultural community of transgender people, the community of transgenders that is well known, received and accepted in most part of India, is the community called Hijras. It is largely believed that all transgenders are hijras. This is hardly the truth. While those who are ill-informed and indifferent often use Hijra as an offensive term to mock epicene boys and transgender individuals. What we people in India, don’t understand is that the hijra community is a socio-cultural community of transgender people. They have their own set of rules and customs, only a transgender person who accepts to become a part of this community can only be called a Hijra. Thus, every transgender person is not a Hijra. Ironically trans people from this community are recognized and get invited to auspicious events and their blessings are sought. There stops their social acceptance. People in this community finally resort to begging and prostitution for their survival.

Our concept of trans people largely is based or rooted from what is being depicted in literature or cinema. Often in cinemas, trans people are represented in a derogatory or offensive manner. This, in turn, reinforces already set enmity. The hatred that stems from ignorance and intolerance to anything out of the normal takes a very ugly face when it refuses to reason and acceptance. Our governance and authorities have been blind towards the transgender population to the extent that there was no census that included others in the gender category until 2011. Only 4.88 Lakh were recorded transgenders as per 2011 census. Even their rates of unemployment or the number of deaths by suicide /murder remain unknown. Being always shunned by society even today the exact number of transgender is not known. Crimes towards this community largely remained under wraps thus compromising their human life, rights, and value. Sec 377 of the IPC is the weapon used by the police force to further harass and incriminate them.

The preamble of our Constitution; the supreme sovereign of the country, dictates Justice — social, economic, and political equality of status.

Art 14 Right to Equality is the first fundamental right guaranteed to the people of India. While Art 15 states the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Art 19 talks about freedom of expression. Article 21 safeguards the right to privacy and personal dignity to all the citizens. Article 23 forbids trafficking in human beings as beggars and other similar forms of forced labor and any breach of these provisions shall be a crime punishable in accordance with law. The Constitution also promises political rights and other benefits to every citizen. The constitution further upholds equality in all spheres.

Yet the official identity that provides civil existence and citizenship requires sexual identity based only on male-female categories and fail to recognize the third gender. So even when the Constitution mandates equality for all including transgender there is no system that ensures equality and other civil liberties. The trivial aspects of everyday life like marriage, owning property, right to vote, right to have a license, right to education and employment, are deprived to trans people just on account of their sexual identity. And due this discriminatory attitude and systems, the people from this community got pushed away from the so-called mainstream that is largely driven by patriarchal rules. Thus, jeopardizing the noble aspect of equality for all.

This discrimination was bought to the light in the landmark case; National Legal Services Authority v Union of India and Others. The case raised the issue of gender recognition of transgender people, and whether the lack of legal measures to provide for the needs of persons not classifying clearly as male or female contradict a number of constitutional rights including the rights to a dignified life, equality before the law, non-discrimination and freedom of expression.

The breakthrough decision of the Supreme Court, in this case, acknowledged and declared transgender people to be a third gender and confirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India to be equally applicable to transgender people, and provided them the right to self-identification of their gender as male, female or third-gender. Thus, breaking the stereotypical male-female convention. The court acknowledging the fact those years of suppression and discrimination has pushed them to the farthest and darkest realms of society where they were subjected to cruelty including sexual harassment. Thus, the trans people resigned to remain invisible in the society due to their unrecognized legal existence by the civil society. To bring this deprived community to the social forefront and ensure them equal opportunity in education and public employment as envisioned in Article 16, the Court observed that they deserved to be granted reservations in the fields of education and employment.

Being the most literate state, Kerala became the first state to make a State policy for transgender following the various calls and demands from the Transgender group to comply with the directions of the Apex court.

The policy was drawn on the basis of a survey conducted to study the issues faced by transgenders (TGs). The survey revealed that major section of the people from this community lacked access to public utilities, education, and employment. The Govt of Kerala under Department of Social justice formulated TG State Justice Board and TG Justice Committees to implement and ensure that TG rights are protected. TG Justice Board comprises of members of different government department along with members from NGO that works for TG rights and members from TG community.

However, the policy refers to the issuance of certificates to TGs confirming their gender on the recommendation of a District level screening Committee headed by Collector /District Magistrate including Social welfare officer, psychologist, psychiatrist, members from the transgender community and such other person the Govt/UT administration deems fit. This part of the policy seems to contradict the judgment in National Legal Services Authority v Union of India and Others, where the right to the determination of gender is conferred upon the person. The person is free to choose the gender that he/she relates to. While the Kerala state TG policy, though it is made to protect the rights of TGs it has curbed their choice of gender by subjecting it to inspection by a group of people thus making the transgender more insecure, vulnerable and stripping them of their self-esteem. So, the Kerala TG Policy forces a trans person to disrobe to prove identity to avail of the rights that the constitution has bestowed. This violates the fundamental rights of self-identity, autonomy and personal integrity as protected by Article 19 and also right to privacy as protected under Art 21. Thus, the most literate state in the country has formulated a policy which is a mockery of the NLSA judgment and it can be considered an act of contempt by the state.

This reveals the utter ignorance and insensitive attitude of the policy-making body and State Executive. It is highly essential for the entire fragments of the society and every functionary of the government to be sensitized to the extent that there is no discrimination based on gender and the pivotal right of privacy need to be protected, being a welfare state. To ensure the involvement and inclusion of trans people into the mainstream it is necessary that the state should stand up for equality and protection of privacy of its citizens.

As a young country, it is in our hands to break the cocoon of ignorance, superstition, and fear to fly out like a butterfly to the beautiful horizons of equality, freedom and compassion.

Wiping out the tears off my face …..I affirmed on my resolution that I took 6 years back that I will stand in line with my TG friends in their struggle for equality, liberty and fraternity….no more suicides..no…not another Ananya Krishnan...

The revolution never stops…….