Transgender persons are people whose identities differ from the stereotypical gender norms that identify genders only as male or female. There are various socio-cultural groups of transgenders who are identified as Hijras, Jogappas, Sakhi, Aradhis, Kinnars, etc., and there are other transgenders who do not belong to any such groups or communities and are referred to as transgender persons individually. The Transgenders in India have faced and continue to face a lot of discrimination, social oppression as well as physical violence. They constitute the marginalized section of society in India and hence face legal, social, and economic difficulties. In our society, where a human is not treated equally, the condition of the transgender community is even worse and it is almost impossible to expect that society will treat them equally. It is extremely important to recognize the rights of the Transgenders and accept them as a third gender rather than treating them differently. This article deals with the rights granted to transgenders and protection under the law in order to recognize them as third-gender persons and eradicate the discrimination and disgrace that transgenders face in their daily lives.
WHAT DOES TRANSGENDER MEAN?
Transgender people are considered as people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. It means a person whose biological gender and psychological gender are a mismatch. They feel that the sex that they were assigned at birth does not match their gender identity or the gender that they feel they are inside. Transgender people express their gender identities in various ways like their way of dressing, their behaviour, and mannerisms. They express their identities in such ways because they want to live as the gender that feel is right for them, which differs from the gender that they were born with. Some transgender people may undergo surgery to change their body in order to match their identity whereas some transgender people reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between male and female, identifying themselves only as transgender or gender queer people. They are diverse in their gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations. Various transgender identities include transgender male, transgender female, male-to-female, and female-to-male. It also includes cross-dressers and transsexuals.
In India, there is a wide range of transgender-related identities that include Hijras, Aravanis, Kothis, Jogtas/Jogappas, and Shiv Shaktis. The term Hijra is used as a common word to direct the transgender community in India. The term caravan is used for male-to-female transgenders who undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery or castration. The term Kothi is used for those transgenders who adopt the role of a female in same-sex relationships but do not live in the community as Aravanis. The Jogtas/Jogappas are male-to-female transgenders who devote themselves to the service of a particular God. They are usually found in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Lastly, the Shiv Shaktis are males who are considered to be married to Gods, particularly Lord Shiva. They are usually found in Andhra Pradesh and work as spiritual healers or astrologers.
DISCRIMINATION FACED BY TRANSGENDERS IN INDIA
The Transgender community in India faces discrimination in various sectors like education, and employment and they are in general discriminated against by society including their own families who disown them for being born as transgenders. They are insulted and teased by other students in schools and colleges, they do not get any jobs as a result and they engage in sex work and are even harassed by the police when they go to file a complaint against someone. According to a documentary namely Demigods: Inside India’s Transgender Community, made by a Transgender from the Netherlands, it was found out that a lot of times men force them to engage in sexual intercourse for free, and if they refuse to do so, they have often been pointed a gun for refusing to perform the specified sexual activity. They are often beaten up by the goons and when they go to file a complaint they are harassed by the police who ask them to have sexual intercourse with them without paying them for the same. They are not only discriminated against by society, they are often discriminated against by their own gurus for not making money for them or for not obeying their orders. Due to a lack of jobs for them, they are often found begging on the roads, performing at weddings and other functions, and mostly they are engaged in sex work because no matter how educated they are, nobody is willing to hire them for a decent job. They are treated differently than normal people and are called out and insulted by names like ‘Chakka’, ‘Maamu’, ‘Ghetto’, ‘No homo’, ‘Whore/Slut’, etc.
In other countries, Transgenders are treated with respect and are privileged because the government helps them with their surgeries, education and employment. However, in our country, only recently the Transgenders Act, 2019 has been brought into force, despite which society fails to recognize them as a third gender and they continue to be treated differently in comparison to other males and females.
TRANSGENDER RIGHTS IN INDIA
Transgenders have been discriminated against for ages as their gender identity was not recognized by society or in the eyes of the law and they had no option but to forcefully write male or female against their gender. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India, in the case of National Legal Services vs Union of India, established the foundation of transgender persons by recognizing transgender as the third gender and laid down various measures for the prohibition of discrimination against transgender persons and for the protection of their rights. The judgment recommended reservations for transgender persons in employment education and healthcare sectors and the right of transgender persons to declare their self-perceived gender identity without undergoing a sex reassignment surgery. The Supreme Court, for the first time, accorded the transgender community an equal constitutional status under the Indian legal system and recognized their fundamental rights under Part III of the constitution to include the right to gender equality and self-dignity importance, stating that “recognition of Transgenders as a third gender is not a social or a medical issue but a human rights issue”.
In 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was enacted by the Government of India for prohibition of discrimination against Transgenders and for the protection of their rights. The act came into force to end discrimination against transgender persons in accessing education, employment and healthcare facilities. It also recognises the right to self-perceived gender identity and provides for certification from a District Magistrate, in case a transgender person has undergone a gender change surgery they have to obtain a certificate from the medical facility and apply for a change in the said certificate.
The Transgender community has raised concerns regarding the requirement of the certificate from the District Magistrate as it is difficult for them to get the papers and many of them have two different names on their documents and due to lack of knowledge and awareness about the transgender identity certificate under the Act.
NEED TO TREAT TRANSGENDER PERSONS AS NORMAL PEOPLE
It is not right to treat someone differently only because that person is born differently, therefore, it is extremely important to not just recognize transgender persons as a third gender but to also accept them as the third gender and to treat them just like we treat other people around us. It is important to mention that despite the ruling in the above-mentioned landmark judgment and the enactment of the Transgender Persons Act, 2019, the transgender community continues to be discriminated against by society since people are not ready to accept them the way they are. Even though the Act provides equal opportunities for transgender persons, they continue to be engaged in sex work as they are rejected for jobs just by looking at their bio-data as a result most of them continue to remain jobless and are seen begging on the streets or engaged in mostly sex work. It is extremely sad to know that even after the necessary laws exist in favor of the transgender community, not much has changed and people continue to treat them differently and discriminate against them on the basis of their dressing style and their mannerisms. It is important to mention that there is a difference between recognition and acceptance and despite transgender being recognized as a third gender, our society fails to accept them as a third gender and fails to treat them as normal people, just like they treat any other male or female. It is extremely important to treat every individual equally, especially without judging them on the basis of their gender identity.
The attitude of the society and the stigma have been a major reason for limiting the opportunities of transgender persons, socially and economically. Their own families disown them because of the criticism they fear they might get for having been given birth to a transgender. Despite the issue being grave, the awareness of the rights of a transgender person continues to be lacking, concerning which the government’s initiative to recognize transgender as a third gender and to protect the rights of transgenders is a remarkable step. However, it is still extremely difficult for transgender persons to get admission in educational institutions and employment because of the sole reason that they are transgenders. It is extremely important to realize that every person born in this Universe is unique in their way and is an integral part of the society, therefore, it is not right to judge and discriminate against people who are born differently in comparison to the stereotype. Every person has equal rights and privileges and nobody deserves to be denied the same or discriminated against only because they are born differently.