Mariya Shaikh (24) thought her identity would change the moment she entered the hijra gharana, 10 years ago. The transition from being born as a male child to her middle-class Marathi speaking family living in Mumbai’s Central suburbs to becoming a Hijra was tough. But getting herself registered in the election roll has turned out to be tougher for her. “I have lost the count of follow-ups with the election office to ensure my name reflects on the roll,” says Shaikh, a 24-year-old outreach worker with Humsafar Trust, an organization that promotes the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights.
Like her, thousands have tried to get themselves enrolled in the electoral rolls through NGOs. “I too want to exercise my rights.
Everyone around me speaks of it being an historic election. But, in this entire scheme of action, my community is a miniscule one,” says Shardha, a sex worker, who had her name enrolled in 2004, on her old documents as a man. “I have voted once. I got it (voter card) made, as it helps me to establish myself as a citizen of this country. But now, when I wanted get the identity changed from a man to a transgender, I could not. “It asks me for my previous documents. All of them are registered as per my earlier name Rehan,” Shardha says.
The transgender community, which informally collated figures, estimates them to be over two lakh in the state, with many living in poor conditions. “Though we have a house today, tomorrow we would be struggling for shelter. In such a condition, where does one get the documents from,” points out Sowmya, a guru, who lives with her disciples in the slums of Malwani. The demands for address proof and identification card go against the transgender community, points out Pallav Pathankar, director (HIV Programmes) at Humsafar Trust.
Pathankar, who conducted a online poll to identify what the LGBT community considered as a plausible options, said people were looking for their issues to be raised. “If the manifesto does not give you space, how will you be even considered their vote bank,” Pathankar says. Besides Congress, no other prominent party has any mention of the LGBT community in their manifesto.
Manisha Shaikh, a transgender working with Shaan project, that focuses on the health issues of the community, especially cases of HIV, is also a guru to over 50 hijras.
In 2010, the Election Commission had made provisions and allowed a letter from the guru certifying that a certain transgender was his/her chela. “I got a letter from my guru. But, that was not enough,” said Kalyani Shaikh, outreach worker. However, a senior electoral officer at the State Commission said, “We need to understand this is the first election when the ‘other’ option is being used. It is a teething trouble. Also, we, through several NGOs, did try to reach out to as many transgenders as possible.”
But Sowmya says, “Only when political parties open their doors to pitch us as their candidates, will our issues be addressed in the true sense.”