When Nareshkumar Jayswal alias Raju Mataji (28) filed her Lok Sabha nomination as an Independent transgender candidate from the Ahmedabad (East) constituency, she became the first from her community in Gujarat to contest a Parliamentary election. It is also the first Lok Sabha polls where members of Jayswal’s community will line up as voters belonging to the ‘Other’ gender category. The transgenders, who were recognised by the Election Commission as a separate category of sex in 2014, feel that their recognition as a community of voters will bring awareness about their necessary rights and needs for social entitlement. Yet, they hope that the recognition must extend beyond just the voter ID card to break the social stigma that continues still.
Gujarat has almost 1,100 registered transgender voters, with Ahmedabad topping the list with 139. In the 2017 Assembly polls, there were 637 transgender voters in the state, with highest in Vadodara at 77. While the number has increased, the community members say that it is a long way before they will be treated in a “more sensitive manner”.
“Most of us have got our voter cards, which clearly have the word ‘Hijra’ mentioned before our names, but it is not a ticket to respect. At government offices and even at polling stations, people look at us with suspicion. I got my voter card in 2017, but when I went to the polling station, officers were miffed to see my other documents mentioning my sex as ‘female’,” says a transgender from Anand, who identifies herself as Pinki.
In Vadodara, the community members who predominantly reside in Baranpura area, say the recognition as “Other” by the Election Commission has not made their life easier. “We have a lot of issues that we face in our day to day life. We face ostracisation by the mainstream community because many fake hijras have created a bad impression about us… We have been asking the government and political leaders to ensure that they crack down on such people so that the stigma attached to our identities is lessened,” says Kalpana Kuwar Masi.
The community feels that it is only with a changed perception of the society that the correction of the sexual identity in government documents can truly bring them social entitlement. “The courts have ruled in the favour of our community even for social welfare schemes. But ultimately, we are confined to our ‘mohalla’ because this is where the society wants to keep us — at a distance… we do not enjoy the same respect as any other man or woman,” says Kalpana.
For transgender candidate Jayswal, the Lok Sabha contest is a path to “serving the society”, she says. But besides the politically correct reason, there is a stark reality for the community. “For our community, some thing as basic as using public toilets is a huge problem. We face stigma when we go to either the male toilets or the female toilets. If elected, I will ensure separate toilets for the third gender. Similarly at hospitals, if there can be separate male and female wards, I propose, there should be a separate hospital with all facilities that treat people from our community. I also want to establish shelters for our kinnar community. A lot of them have been abandoned by their families as well as their gurus. They end up indulging in wrongful activities or sometimes, killing themselves. Such a shelter will provide a relief for all these people,” Jayswal says.
Tanya, a transgender from Naroda area in Ahmedabad, will be voting for the second time on April 23. She lives with 15 other hijras and their ‘guru’ Manu Masi. “I have seen ads of PM Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat. We want 100 per cent benefit of both. Given the limited spaces we have to live in, we all are perpetually fighting,” Tanya says, while five others silently nod in agreement.
Rekha, another transgender from Kheda, feels that unless the community is brought into the banking sector, it will never be able to change its fortunes. “We want PAN cards with a classification of our gender, which will in turn help us open bank accounts,” she says.
When asked how are the ‘Others’ category identified and how are transpersons registered as, Ahmedabad Returning Officer Vikrant Pandey said, “For those applying under ‘Others’, Form 6 needs to be filled along with residence proof. Thereafter, our officer verifies the physical existence of the said person along with the said residence. If it’s a matter of someone who has had an SRS (sex reassignment surgery) and say, someone who had been registered as a male voter and now wants to be registered as female (or vice-versa), a declaration by a medical team will be required along with the other usua stipulated documents. However, we’ve rarely had any such cases. Most, who have been registered, identify as kinnars (and are thus categorised as ‘Others’).”
In Vadodara, the District Election officers are planning a special SVEEP activity with the community to create awareness about their right to franchise. However officers say that the community is extremely closed to ideas. An officer says, “We have visited their houses during the revision of electoral rolls to include them as third gender. The fact is they are also a closed community. They are very conscious about the fact that they are different from the rest of the society and they also want to be left alone. They have a heirarchy and are dominated by their superiors, who has the final word in most matters. It is only the rare cases of this transgenders, who have received support from their families in some way, who are able to bring about change and be agents of change.”
When contacted, Vadodara Returning Officer Shalini Agarwal, said that the officers had carried out a drive across the district to include as many transgender people as there could be out of ‘voluntary admission’. Agarwal told this newspaper, “In the urban areas, we were able to have some of them come forth and admit their sexual identity but in rural areas, many were unwilling to identify themselves as the third gender. However, this is an active drive to include them into the new rolls. We have also held sessions to sensitise officers from the block level to the polling booths to deal with the transgenders in a humane manner and be open to helping them during the course of the elections.”