To a community that has been discriminated against for centuries, looked upon with suspicion by those who fall under clear gender lines, abused and often forced into begging and prostitution, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to create a third gender category brought surprise and joy.
Transgender charities said a milestone had been reached in their fight against marginalisation in society. “But this is just the foundation stone that has been laid. We now need to construct the entire building,” said Simran Shaikh, a male-to-female transgender who works as a programme officer at India HIV/AIDS Alliance, an NGO that works with marginalised groups such as transgenders and sex workers.
Transgender rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who was among the petitioners in the case filed in 2012, said on Tuesday, “The bench has legally recognised us as part of society. Today, for the first time, I feel very proud to be an Indian.”
The win, which comes four months after the Supreme Court struck down a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment to decriminalise Section 377, will affect more than two million members of the transgender/hijra community.
“December 11 (2013) was a black day for us. We now consider the 11th of every month a black day,” Shaikh told a celebratory gathering in the basement of Alliance India’s office in Zamrudpur in south Delhi.
“But from today, discrimination will no longer be my favourite word. We should now focus solely on policy. Finally, we have a foot in the door.”
Abhina Aher, one of three transgenders employed at Alliance India, said the judgment meant that “young hijras will now be less fearful of telling their families who they think are”.
“We have found our backbone today,” she said.
Aher spoke about a recent case involving a 17-year-old boy whom his parents sent to a psychiatrist, but who had referred him to her. “The parents got angry with the psychiatrist and now take him to babas for a ‘cure’. Today’s judgment will not immediately change mindsets, but I hope we will begin to see an impact in the next few years. Trans people too are born free, and are equal in dignity and rights,” she said.
For Aher, Shaikh and their colleagues, the next challenge is to help the community mainstream and get jobs. The court has granted them equal education, healthcare and employment rights. Most transgender people in India make a living by singing and dancing or by begging and prostitution.
For many, the judgment means getting identification that correctly states their gender. A significant empowering step was taken when members of the community got voter IDs for the general elections. Shaikh, who recently travelled to the US for a World Bank conference, has a passport that says she is female; Aher’s says she is male.
Shaikh has not been given a credit card. In Kerala recently, she was turned continued…