In the patriarchal society that India has been, gender roles have remained stringently defined since times immemorial. Religious norms and values have had a central role in dictating these gender distinctions in various realms. In fact, there are several domains, for instance, work places that have been exclusively reserved for men, projecting the idea of women inefficiency. These redundant ideas have continued to dominate the societal notions even in the contemporary era, experiencing only some resistance once in a while. In such a traditional scenario, it doesn’t seem surprising to accept that for a long time, gender attributes have been portrayed in terms of binaries—males and females.
It doesn’t mean that the Indian history didn’t acknowledge the presence of a ‘different’ human being who did not suitably fit into these gender categories. However, the idea is that these different’ humans have always been kept aloof from the respectable or mainstream work roles, and have repeatedly been treated as abnormal. Living standards, especially the religious dictations have been harsh towards them, which have caused them to be excluded from the society. Granting them independence did not do any significant justice to these individuals as there was no official recognition for the ‘third genders’ in the Constitution. Naturally, since there was no recognition in the first place, no question of their political rights and participation arose.
This gender discrimination was finally addressed in a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court of India in the National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India on 15th April, 2014, which declared the transgender as falling into the category of a “third gender”, and affirmed that the Fundamental Rights granted by the Indian Constitution shall be equally available to them. The Right to Self-Identity which included the right to gender self-determination was indeed a path-breaking step towards greater freedom and equality for the citizens of the country. This NALSA judgement provided for several positive measures like skill development, reservation policies in education and jobs, and also recognized the third gender as a voter identity for the first time. Following this verdict, the law certainly provides avenue for political participation of the third genders. But legalities can never go beyond a certain surface-level if not backed by a change in the outlook of the people, and a genuine acceptance on their part. In India, where the transgender are merely understood to be abnormal people communicating through different gestures and showering blessings on new-born babies, the journey to political equality was meant to be a rough road.
Although, political activism has become much more visible, any real change in their position can be brought about only by ensuring representation in the Legislature and the Executive. Contesting elections, however, will not be possible without the support of the many political parties that dominate the Indian political system, as any independent candidature without sufficient money cannot achieve victory in the Indian elections. While a few cases of some political parties giving positions to third genders has recently made its space in the media (the AAP appointed a transgender candidate, Bhawani Ma for the Allahabad Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress Party has appointed another transgender activist, Apsara Reddy as the National General Secretary of the women’s wing, the BJD in Odisha has appointed a transgender activist, Meera Parda as the Vice-president of the women’s wing), other parties have remained largely indifferent to providing them such positions. Transgender people attained voting rights in 2014, and yet, the number of voters who identify as trans is a mere 10% of the transgender population (an estimate from the 2011 Census).
With the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 last year, the expectations of the queer community, particularly the transgender community has grown considerably with regard to the upcoming General Elections. The Election Commission is sensitive to this issue and has appointed a transgender goodwill ambassador, Shreegauri Sawant in Maharashtra to raise awareness in the community and articulate their concerns to the Election Commission. However, this remains to be implemented in other states of the country.
Amidst all the efforts that are being made, social stigma and the prevalent patriarchy remain the greatest hurdle which need to be overcome so that the third genders can break the glass ceiling in the upcoming elections.
Picture Courtesy- Fortitude Magazine