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Chennai: Move on toilets for transgenders sparks off debate

Besides 'ladies' and 'gents',public lavatories in Chennai may soon offer a third option — for transgenders.

Written by Chinki Sinha | New Delhi |
March 9, 2009 8:24:15 am

Besides “ladies” and “gents”,public lavatories in Chennai may soon offer a third option — for transgenders. The Chennai Municipal Corporation has set aside Rs 45 lakh for a pilot project to build three such lavatories for transgenders in the city.

While the construction is expected to begin after the polls,the officials have already identified areas with a considerable transgender population in south and central Chennai. The first will be built in Saidapet,where it will cater to those living in Kothamedu,Theedeer Nagar and Athuma Nagar.

Each lavatory,with both male and female urinals for those who have undergone sex change as well as those who are yet to do so,is estimated to cost about Rs 12-15 lakh. Muncipal Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said that more such toilets would be built,depending on the response.

For the moment,the response has been rather mixed. While there are some who have welcomed the move,many feel that it would lead to more isolation of the transgender community.

“I don’t agree with this. We want to mingle with the mainstream. We don’t want to be separated like this,” said Aasha Bharathi,president of the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association. “Using separate toilets will open the way for discrimination. We want to be considered as females. In our hearts,we are women.”

But Lakhoni countered that the move was aimed at “extending recognition to the community and mainstreaming them”. Pointing out that the scheme was announced in the budget last month,he said a survey revealed that 99 per cent of the respondents did not want to use the same toilets as transgenders.

Supporting the government’s decision,Rose Venkatesan,India’s first transgender TV host who anchors Ippadikku Rose,said it was a good start. “One of the most basic needs is toilets. It is a big problem,because not everyone has undergone a sex change. This is a good idea,but in the long run,I see a society where there is no difference and all use the same toilets,” she said.

Venkatesan uses the “ladies” toilets. She had issues when she was still transitioning from male to female,but her celebrity status ensured that she found acceptance quickly.

However,Dr Lakshmibai,associated with the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative that works with over 15,000 transgenders in the state,denounced the move. “On the one hand,we are trying to get them accepted as women and mainstream them,but this creates more isolation. If they have to use separate toilets,there are more chances of them getting victimised,” she said.

With a population of about 30,000 transgenders,Tamil Nadu has implemented several schemes for them,including the creation of welfare boards,separate voter identification cards and ration cards and free sex correction operations. Recently,the state government allocated Rs 1 crore for a group housing project for the community.

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