At Transgender Meet, Minister Says BJP Against Bias on Basis of Sexual Orientation

New Delhi: In an attempt to create a broader platform for issues affecting the transgender community in India, the Delhi-based India HIV/AIDS Alliance organised the Third National Hijra Habba 2015 in New Delhi on June 30. The event was intended to not only welcome the formal status of transgenders as the third gender following the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment last year but also to address the factors that still prevent the community from accessing the welfare measures they are entitled to.

Held under the Pehchaan progmme of the Alliance, the event was attended by around 350 participants from across India. They offered a standing ovation to Member of Parliament Tiruchi Siva (DMK), whose private member’s Bill seeking to end the harsh discrimination faced by transgenders in India was passed by the Rajya Sabha in April this year, paving the way for it to be enacted as legislation. The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, seeks to provide and protect the rights of transgenders based on the principle of social and financial inclusion.

“If enacted, this Bill will help find solutions to end the discrimination that transgenders face in our society,” said Tiruchi Siva, adding that it was time to put a stop to the humiliation that the community is forced to endure. The bill, which has 58 clauses concerning different aspects of the community’s existence, is yet to be passed by the Lok Sabha.

Among the speakers at the event were Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Swami Agnivesh, Laxmi Tripathi Narayan, a well known name in transgender activism, and Hindi film director Onir.

Gehlot said that discussion on the Bill had already started in Lok Sabha. There are some differences over the provisions of the Bill. However, our government is determined to turn it into law for the welfare of our transgender citizens,” he stated. Stressing that the Bharatiya Janata Party is against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, he expressed the view that “people have a right to live the way they want to.”

James Robertson, Executive Director of India HIV/ AIDS Alliance, pointed out that it was “essential that the government should develop responsive policies and ensure the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment at the community level. Only when transgenders and hijras are able to access the full benefits of citizenship can they be truly empowered.”

In its judgment of April 15, 2014, recognising and protecting the rights of transgenders as the ‘third gender’, the Supreme Court gave specific directions to the Central and state governments to take into consideration their education, employment and health concerns. However, activists who have spearheaded the campaign for the rights of the transgender community are of the view that they must fight for their rights now or, things will not change.

Well-known LGBT rights activist Ashok Row Kavi raised a pertinent concern before the transgender activists. “Even after the Supreme Court’s decision why hasn’t the situation improved for transgenders? It is because transgender community is not aware of the judgment. The court has already approved your rights as citizens of this country. But people from your community are not holding the government responsible for the lack of implementation.”

A different perspective was put forward by lawyer Tripti Tandon. She held that conventional norms of gender identity and sexuality in society (male and female) prevented the inclusion of transgenders in the mainstream. “What is the definition of transgender?” she asked, saying that from the point of view of mainstream society, being a transgender is itself a defiance of the conventional norms with which society looks at sexuality.

“We want to be included as members of society but by keeping intact our differences,” she said.

Several case studies from various parts of the country were shared at the event portraying the unending humiliation faced by trasngenders on daily basis.

Sharing her experiences, Akai Padmashali, a trans-woman, said, “We cannot use public toilets because we are neither male nor female. We are vulnerable because we have no identity in society.” Talking about support from political parties for their rights, Akai said that “secular parties support our cause but where’s the implementation? We are searching for acceptance and love. We are not the problem, the problem is lack of implementation of the policy.”

Laura R. Chittenden, a representative of USAID India said that the “social exclusion of transgenders could not be combated and real change could not be implemented without involving the transgender community in the dialogue on the next steps, whether we are discussing health, education or social protections.”