This is a part of an article we wrote a year back on gender equality. We are republishing it considering its current relevance.
It is imperative that we distinguish between gender and sex. A transgender person is one whose sense of gender, that is, the gender identity, does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth. Hence it is absurd to deem it as abnormal or unnatural. Plus, it is only fundamental that one is at their own liberty to choose his own gender identity- each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth. It is a constitutional right. The problem arises when we limit the scopes human mind, its annotations with gender and become obsessed with the male-female dichotomy and become indifferent altogether of the existence of the “third gender”. In June 2014, a transgender person died following an accident, as doctors could not decide which ward – male or female – to use for treatment. The empowerment and welfare of transgenders is of utmost importance to feminism, because feminism quintessentially seeks to eradicate exploitation and subjugation on the basis of sexuality and gender.
In this second decade of the 21st century, we all know that feminism is not in fact about “women” but about recognizing how modern discourses of gender produce human beings as exclusively “men” or “women”. – Nivedita Menon
It is criminal to differentiate people for what they feel about themselves, let alone brand them as lesser mortals and marginalize them so much that most of them are uneducated and have no substantial employment. Shockingly, this indifference begins within the family, and ends up with most of them eking out a livelihood from begging and commercial sex work, and vulnerable to human trafficking. They are ghettoised and are the most dis-empowered group in Indian society. It is a dire necessity that we put an end to this social stigma that the transgenders face in our country that boasts about unity amidst diversity.
The International Law on Human Rights on Gender and Sexual Orientation states that every state is obliged to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses by third parties and take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. In 2010, the supreme court made the progressive NALSA judgement in which the court emphatically noted that dignity cannot be realized if a person is forced to grow up and live in a gender, which they do not identify with or relate to. The judgement also granted legal recognition to a person’s self-identified gender- as male, female or third gender, treated transgender persons as a backward class and extended reservations in education and employment and also appropriate health facilities such as HIV clinics and SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery). NALSA made a break from the erstwhile paternalistic and charitable approach of the State towards the transgender community by framing their concerns as a matter of rights. But the primary redressal has to come from the families and the communities in which they live, who outcast their own kin because of ill-formed societal consensus. The judgement would have paid dividends in reducing discrimination in areas of public employment, health care, education, access to services and police atrocities such as stripping, feeling up breasts and genitals and subjecting transgender persons to intrusive body searches or medical examination to ascertain their gender. But in 4 years, as attacks on the lives and dignity of transgender persons continue with impunity, we managed to move to the retrograde Transgender Rights Bill in which the case seems to be more like a liability than the duty of the state. It is even contradictory to many provisions in the constitution itself, the NALSA judgement, the report of the Expert Committee on the Issues Relating to Transgender Persons constituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Transgender Persons Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2014. The lack of political will is clear as the government attempts to push for a heavily diluted legislation, thus turning a blind eye towards the long-suffering community.
The continued marginalization of more than 4.5 lakh transgender persons in our country speaks volumes about our culture, which is very often heralded for its quality. What good is a culture if it treats different people differently? Each one of this large population is equal and deserves to be respected as equal like anybody else in the country. Their voices have to be heard. And the first thing that has to change is our attitude towards gender because it is our minds that are in fetters.