The NRC Poses a Two-Fold Predicament for Assam's Transgender Community

Many in the transgender community were excluded from the NRC after they were unable to procure documents – most have been disowned by their families – while others were included on the gender they no longer identify with.

Guwahati: For Assam’s transgender persons who are mostly poor, destitute and hapless, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has proven to be a double-edged sword. While one section of the community has been excluded owing to a ‘lack’ of documents – which is not odd considering most of them have been disowned by their families – another section’s inclusion only pertains to the gender they no longer identify with.

While any legal or financial aid from the state for fighting their NRC exclusion seems far fetched, their only hope as of now remains a much-awaited direction from the Supreme Court, which – if favourable towards the community – could provide them with some succour in fighting their exclusion status in the NRC. The much-awaited direction is related to an Intervention Application (IA), which was filed in 2018 at the apex court to highlight the issues affecting the state’s transgender community in the context of NRC, and as of now is pending before the apex court.

Exclusion from the NRC, according to the All Assam Transgender Association (AATA), a registered body which had filed the IA, has created paranoia within the community. They no longer venture out into the streets for fear of getting caught by authorities and being marked as ‘foreigners’. Places where members of the community gather – the overpasses, underpasses, highways, bus spots etc. – are no more preferable for them. Livelihood which mostly means begging for them, according to the AATA is now only limited to trains or ceremonies like marriages or Hindu baby shower rituals where they are asked to sing and dance.

The founder of AATA, Swati Bidhan Baruah, who filed the IA and also recently filed a petition at the apex court seeking its direction over the issue of those members from the transgender community who had been excluded from the NRC told The Wire that after the NRC was published on August 31 there was reluctance among the transgender populace to speak to journalists for fear of reprisal from authorities, who may identify and label them as ‘foreigners’. Baruah made headlines in 2017 when she filed a PIL at the Gauhati high court over the proper implementation of the 2014 National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgement in Assam.

Also read: Interview | NRC Final Draft Is a Double Whammy for Assam’s Transgender Community

Baruah claimed that of the state’s transgender population of close to twenty thousand, around two thousand members had been excluded from the state’s 33 districts due to a lack of documents. Those whose names had been included were mostly men.

The Wire spoke to transgender persons in Lumding in the Hojai district, Diphu at Karbi Anglong district and at Silchar in Cachar district who had been excluded from the NRC due to lack of documents and those who had been included in the NRC as males. They spoke about their experience of being excluded, their fears about what the government might do to them next, the seemingly impossible task of getting papers and the lack of resources for pursuing a legal course.

Baruah said around 1,500 transgender persons from Lumding alone have been excluded from the NRC. She said this was the highest number of members excluded from one particular place.

One such person who shared her experience was Pinky, who at one point of time was identified as Shafiqul Islam. Originally from Bongaigaon district, the 27-year-old was thrown out of her home and now lives in Lumding with four other transgender persons.

Pinky said that her story was similar to that of many from her community. “I left home on account of my identity and joined the community. Then I went to Lumding and stayed with fellow members of the community. I have not been excluded from the NRC, but my old identity has been included,” she said and added that to challenge her old identity as a male, she would have to go back home to get the relevant documents. “But I cannot go back home. I am caught up now and have no idea what to do next. I am afraid that the government may find me and declare me as a foreigner. I will discuss with AATA and fellow community members on what to do next,” she said.

With begging as the only source of livelihood for the community, the members are hoping for some form of financial or legal aid from the government to address their present situation. But the community claims, the government has yet to hear them out.

Anjali Thapa, originally from Diphu, was sent to the transgender community by her own parents at the age of seven. She told The Wire that the reason which was shown as excluded from the NRC was the ‘non-submission of documents’ and maintained that Prime Minister Modi should provide the community with adequate facilities. According to Baruah, Her parents’ whereabouts are unknown since they left Diphu and settled elsewhere.

“I have no documents prior to 1971. I have no other papers to show. Modi sarkar should provide us with a facility through which our names can be included. I do not even have a ration card. What madam [Baruah] says that the court’s direction will determine our citizenship is what I hope for. There is nothing,’ said she.

Also read: ‘There Is a Road Named After My Family. Is That Not Proof I Am Assamese?’

More or else is the same situation for Khushi aka Tina originally from Silchar now based in Lumding. This 44-year-old transgender was forcibly married to a woman before she could disclose her identity. When she finally did disclose her identity, ironically, the woman Tina was married to supported her but was she disowned by her own biological parents. Now mostly into begging, Tina saves a portion from it for the wife.

“I have no documents and hence have been excluded from the NRC. I cannot say what will be my fate,” she said.

Several other members including Kajali aka Kajal Rahman, who hails from Mangaldoi in Darrang district and now lives in Guwahati, share a common thread of being excluded from the NRC and have no other alternatives other than the much-awaited Supreme Court verdict.

“The direction from SC is our last hope. Most of the people are poor and have no other ways to challenge their exclusion from the NRC. We are hopeful that it will consider our petition on how the transgender community can be included. We have already mentioned it in the apex court and the court had already filed a notice in August of 2018. But even after that our petition has not been taken up for hearing. So, we believe the main petition has been disposed of and the IA will be taken up and a suitable order is given. We are in touch with our counsel,” said Baruah.

“Just because the transgender persons do not have proper documentation and have been disowned or abandoned by their families, in that case, the only support they lack is from the government which in the first place should have taken steps so that they are not excluded. Even after the 2014 National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgment which had recognised the fundamental and civil rights of the nation’s transgender people, the state government was sleeping,” Baruah added.

Gaurav Das is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist.