“Is it a sin to be born a hijra?” asked Sita, a member of the transgender community, narrating her story of pain and trauma at a public hearing on “Social Inclusion and Access to Justice to Transgender Community” here on Saturday.
“When anti-social elements treat you badly, you approach the police. But whom should you approach when police personnel themselves exploit you sexually,” she asked, highlighting the pattern of institutionalised exploitation of the transgender community.
“The police earlier used to harass us for gay sex, but after the Delhi High Court decriminalised it, they harass the community on the pretext of being prostitutes.”
Another transgender Laksmi poses another query: “If you sit on seats reserved for women in buses, they make you stand. And if you occupy the unreserved ones, then the men harass you. Is this the kind of day-to-day discrimination and social ostracisation we have to live with our whole life?”
Sita and Lakshmi were among the hundred-odd members of the transgender community who had came together to demand civil rights that are granted to every citizens of the country. They demanded that the civil society and the government put an end to their marginalisation and discrimination.
At the end of the public hearing, a jury headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah, recommended the government recognise the transgender community on the basis of their sexual orientation and start welfare schemes for them as a matter of right. He also recommended that every State Government, like Tamil Nadu, form a Transgender Welfare Board and Transgender Commission to protect the human rights of the marginalised community.
While inaugurating the public hearing, Delhi High Court acting Chief Justice A. K. Sikri, said: “It is important for the judiciary to come out with bold pronouncements in support of this community. In the case of the disabled, courts have always taken a firm stand in their favour, which has made a lot of difference to their lives. I hope it is going to be the same for this community in future.”
“We need to understand as to what extent social exclusion, based on identity, is impacting their right to property and inheritance, denial of access to healthcare and social welfare schemes, including identity cards and livelihood options,” said Laya Medhini, director of the Centre for Legal Aid and Rights (CLAR), which co-organised the public hearing with the United Nations Development Programme, India.
Campaigner for rights for transgender community and writer Priya Babu said: “Unless the issue of our legal identity is resolved and we are classified as a gender and on the basis of which the government legislates for reservation for the transgender community at all levels, we are not going to win the battle against marginalisation, stigma and discrimination.”
Ambalika Roy, a lawyer attached with CLAR, said the process of inclusion of transgender community has to start right at the school level so that children with transgender orientation don’t have to leave school, as almost all transgender participants at Saturday’s hearing had to.
Ambalika said awareness at all levels was resulting in transgender-friendly policy making decisions like the census doing a headcount of the transgender community for the first time in India and the Karnataka High Court appointing a transgender in the High Court to deal with their cases. But she also added that these steps were still very few and the government had a long way to go to ensure a dignified life and human rights to the marginalised community.