Transgenders’ plight in India – National plans in states fail to get implemented

dr.james kottoor (Chicago)

James kottoorThe immediate provocation for focusing on this topic is the fact that Donald Trump, president of the oldest democracy in the world  has criminalized over 15,000 transgenders in the military through a tweet and declared them to be unfit for service. He did it without consulting anyone, according to reports.

He is hell bent on erasing LGBT Americans from public life (See CCV post, July 28). So the question: what is happening on the same question in India, called the largest democracy in the world?

Joyita Mondal Mahi becomes Bengal’s first transgender judge of a Lok Adalat (Facebook)

Only a year ago Obama decriminalized transgenders in military which gave  a sense of relief to those working in the military without revealing their real sexual orientation. The term ‘transgenders’ include a wide variety of people like homosexuals, lesbians, gay people, hijras or eunuchs, sodomites etc. who defy easy understanding. So who is a transgender? The Indian version of the  draft bill defines a transgender as someone who is neither wholly female nor wholly male, a combination of female or male or neither female nor male and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to the person at the time of birth.

That leaves one more confused since most of us are not in close touch with such people. Still a whole lot of things  to rehabilitate them, not to criminalize them, are happening all over India, but all in the initial stage and not systematically.

Transgenders or LGBT is a very grey, murky area where people indulge in all sort of unnatural sexual activity and therefore the so called “decent people” don’t even discuss the topic openly in public. The group traces its origin to the Biblical times of Sodom and Gomorra, which God burned down as a punishment for the inhabitants who were indulging in unnatural and therefore sinful sexual practices between people of the same sex. At least that is what people thought of people in Sodom.

But modern science has revealed that same-sex attraction is not the fault of any individual concerned, but something inbuilt in certain individuals like “left-handedness”. Usually people are right-handed. If one is born left handed it is not to be imputed to him/her as  part of the person’s creation and therefore, not to be considered a sin or crime. The author of creation is responsible for such tendencies in some people. So society has a duty to rehabilitate them and accept them with equal respect and dignity. This is being done in ever so many countries around the world.

Some Statistics!

For instance according to reports in many papers, especially in Hindustan Times from which we have published many reports below to give an overall picture, more than 120 countries in the world have decriminalized homosexuality. Seventy-two countries and territories worldwide continue to criminalise same-sex relationships. Eight countries — Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria — punish homosexuality with death penalty, and there are dozens more in which homosexual acts can result in a prison sentence.

At the same time  there are more than 120 countries which have decriminalised homosexuality. Gay marriages are permitted in 24 states with Malta going to join the group soon according to Hindustan Times.  Ireland said to be more Catholic than the Pope legalized gay marriage through plebiscite. Why, who exploded the first bombshell and shocked the whole world? It was Francis Papa himself in an interview on board a plane.

He readily admitted there are homosexuals in the Vatican and when asked about his opinion he just wondered in exclamations saying: “Who am to judge if such a person seeks God and seek enlightenment!” This topic was thoroughly discussed during the Family Synod in Rome, where Francis first took a very favourable stand towards them while conservative cardinals opposed him tooth and nail so that they could not bring out a common conclusion. Therefore Francis was forced to bring out  his “Amoreis Laetitia” (Joy of Love) which is still disputed.

Kerala’s experiment

When Kerala put 23 transgenders on drivers’ seat at the inauguration of Kochi Metro CCV published a report praising Kerala for setting a good example for the country. But many of them are now quitting because Kochi people who are biased against trangenders refuse to give them accommodation, that is,  rental facilities. This should have been provided by the government who appointed them. It only shows many steps taken by state or central government, with the best of intentions, fail to benefit transgeners in India, while in US the Trump administration itself is acting vindictively against transsexuals.             

So the problems transsexuals face in various countries differ vastly. A global consenses on how they should be treated is still to emerge and may take many more years. In the mean time we all have to agree that they are to be treated with equality, respect and dignity. What is more, they should never be looked down as a criminal or sinful group of people.

The report below deals with various groups of transgenders. It gives a bird’s eye of the vastness of the issue. As time permits we shall deal with them one by one. In the meantime let us banish from our minds any contemptuous attitude we may have. Instead let us treat them with greater care as we would when dealing with the “differently abled” or disabled. They are our brothers and sisters deserving equal rights, nay preferential rights and treatment. james kottoor, editor, ccv.

Please read below various reports collected from Hindustan Times

To give a bird’s eye-view of the complexity of problems involved!

Cut the red tape: why  new transgender rights bill might harm the community – Dhrubo Jyoti in Hindustan Times, Jul 26, 2017

The legislation, originally aimed to empower India’s transgender community, is increasingly looking like a bureaucratic noose around trans and gender non-conforming people if the officialese that sets up vague and confusing guidelines isn’t urgently clarified.

Three years after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement in Nalsa vs Union of India that laid down the rights of transpeople that are necessary to lead a life of dignity and respect, little has changed on the ground. Trans employees are scarce, their housing difficult and their educational barriers formidable – as exemplified by trans employees of the Kochi Metro who were forced to quit because no one would rent them an apartment. (PTI)

Imagine yourself 14 years old, experiencing dysphoria in your body and gender expression that is triggering violence and repression at home.

You meet a sympathetic community outside but the law of the land ties you to your natal family. You try and get a certificate to convince the courts but the medical officer doesn’t think you look transgender. The hearings drag out over months, even years, draining you of resources, energy and even life. This could well be the fate of a new generation if a new bill passes.

The legislation, originally aimed to empower India’s transgender community, is increasingly looking like a bureaucratic noose around trans and gender non-conforming people if the officialese that sets up vague and confusing guidelines isn’t urgently clarified.

A new report by a parliamentary standing committee, which was looking into the draft transgender rights bill introduced last year, attempts to set right some of these problems. The heart of the committee, led by senior BJP parliamentarian Ramesh Bais, appears to be in the right place. For a country that criminalises homosexuality, it is striking that the report opens with an affirmation of alternative genders and sexual orientations and goes on to admonish homophobia – a stricture that could well shame many members of the ruling party.

The report ends by calling for not just legal, but civil rights for the transgender community such as marriage – a welcome realisation that people cannot live with dignity while being criminalised by both the society and the State.

The report also pushes back on the definition of transgender in the original draft – not wholly female nor wholly male; a combination of female or male; neither female nor male – that many activists deemed offensive and dangerous. But the panel doesn’t do enough to create an alternative definition or broaden the ambit to include as many kinds of identities and expressions as possible.

But troublingly, the panel takes the same line as the government on the need for a screening committee to certify transgender people. The committee appears obsessed with the potential for misuse of trans certificates, as if social stigma and socio-economic barriers aren’t deterrents enough.

Worse, the report endorses the need for a medical officer on the panel – a recommendation at odds with the Supreme Court’s to let trans people self identity and a global move away from biological determinism of gender through inspection of genitalia. The recommendations can lead to the creation of a massive bureaucracy that will boost gate-keeping, corruption and favouritism and force the most underprivileged to compete for meagre resources.

The panel also doesn’t strike down a clause in the bill that criminalises beggary; instead, it aims to punish organised syndicates. But there is no clarity on how police will enforce this crackdown without arresting and harassing common trans folk begging on the streets. In the absence of adequate provisions guaranteeing employment and education, such a move can wreak havoc on vulnerable populations.

Neither is the clause forcing trans children to stay with natal families addressed adequately. The committee introduces courts into the mix, and calls for recognising alternative structures of care, but doesn’t go far enough to recognise families as the primary site of violence for transfolk.

The report came through a process of widespread consultations and long deliberations, the positives of which are seen in the call to define discrimination, add more teeth to grievance redressal mechanisms and affirmative action for transpeople in jobs and education.But the spectre of bureaucracy looms large.

In 2014, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement in Nalsa vs Union of India laid down the rights of transpeople that are necessary to lead a life of dignity and respect. Three years on, little has changed on the ground, despite significant focus and media coverage, and the culprit is the government. Trans employees are scarce, their housing difficult and their educational barriers formidable – as exemplified by trans employees of the Kochi Metro who were forced to quit because no one would rent them an apartment.

All this can change with new legislation and a government push. The committee’s nod to homosexuality and trans identities is significant, a sign of changed thinking in the ruling establishment and an acknowledgment of how the country, and indeed the world, has moved past a climate of hostility for different genders and sexualities. It is also time, then, to walk the talk on these pledges and ensure trans citizens don’t get their lives entangled in babudom and mothballed files.

No country can progress by leaving a section of its population behind on the basis of conservatism and hate. There has been plenty of signalling on Section 377 that criminalises many of us — from even the RSS chief — but little action. The government should ensure the full gamut of rights are available for all of its citizens: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or others. For the mature democracy that India claims to be, it shouldn’t be this difficult.

Transgender bill does not address important issues, says Parliamentary panel.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice And Empowerment in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday said transgenders “remain at risk of criminalisation under Section 377 of the IPC”.(Jul 24, 2017,Press Trust of India, New Delhi)

A BJP MP-headed parliamentary panel has criticised the government’s draft transgender bill for not addressing important civil rights issues such as marriage and divorce among members of the community.The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice And Empowerment in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday said transgenders “remain at risk of criminalisation under Section 377 of the IPC”.The IPC section criminalises any “unnatural” sexual contact by a person including acts of homosexuality.

The report comes at a time when the BJP-led NDA government is under pressure to decriminalise homosexuality.The draft Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 “does not refer to important civil rights like marriage and divorce, adoption among others which are critical to transgender persons’ lives, wherein many are engaged in marriage-like relations without any legal recognition from the state”, it said.

The panel headed by BJP Lok Sabha member Ramesh Bais said the bill is “silent” on granting reservation to transgenders under the socially and educationally backward classes category as directed by the Supreme Court.It suggested that the proposed legislation “must at the very least” recognize transgenders’ rights to partnership and marriage” and that they should have the option to choose their gender independent of surgery or hormones.

The draft bill defines a transgender as someone who is neither wholly female nor wholly male, a combination of female or male or neither female nor male and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to the person at the time of birth.

The panel also felt that the definition of a transgender in the draft bill is in stark contrast to global developments, where transgenders have been granted the right to self determine and to seek benefits according to such identity.

“It not only violates fundamental rights to equality, dignity, autonomy, but also freedom of transgender persons guaranteed under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution,” it said.

The definition is “unscientific and primitive and based on biological attributes”. It fails to recognise that many persons are born with ambiguous or typical sexual organs, whether external or internal, and identify themselves as male, female or transgender, it said.

The committee also recommended that a definition of “discrimination” be included in Chapter I of the bill “which must cover a range of violations that transgenders face”.It also asked the central and state governments and the civil society to adopt measures for creating awareness about transgenders.

A historic shift is underway, transgender are not alone in their struggle for the end of violence and discrimination, the panel said in the report. “While there is no shame in being a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex or even straight – there is shame and dishonour in being a homophobe, a transphobe and a bigot,” it said. 

In another first, Bengal gets a transgender Lok Adalat judge Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, Kolkata,Jul 18, 2017.

A social worker for many years, Joyita Mondal Mahi made news on July 8 when she attended a Lok Adalat at Islampur in the North Dinajpur as the judge, the first member of the transgender community in Bengal to do so.

Till last month, Joyita Mondal Mahi was a member of the transgender community who was working for the welfare and development of her marginalised community. On July 8, the world changed for the 29-year-old when she attended office as Bengal’s first transgender judge of a Lok Adalat.

On her first day as judge at Islampur in the North Dinajpur, Joyita, who was known as Joyonto in the past, heard quite a few cases involving recovery of loan taken from banks.

“In most of the cases I suggested negotiation which the litigants found acceptable. In one specific case I ordered the bank authorities to confiscate a mortgaged property and recover the loan because the borrower simply refused to sit for talks, ” said Mondal.  

Joyita Mondal Mahi addressing a conference on transgender welfare in the city. (Facebook)

Records can’t establish whether Mondal is the first transgender person to be appointed judge of a Lok Adalat in the country and she too is not too keen to find out. “Law says that Lok Adalats can appoint social workers with established credibility as judges. I was appointed because I am a social worker and not because I am a transgender person. I cross checked with several national associations and NGOs but none could say for sure whether any transgender person had earlier been appointed as a Lok Adalat judge,” said Mondal. 

“When I came to Islampur around nine years ago my job was restricted to working for the rights and development of the transgender and LGBT community. But as I slowly progressed and got in touch with district administration officials, I felt the urge to work for all people and not just a community,” she said. 

In 2015, Mondal joined projects that involved setting up of an old- age home for HIV- positive people and formation of patient’s welfare committees. “My performance drew the attention of the district administration and I was recommended for this appointment,” said Mondal.  

She said her new assignment will not hamper her regular work because Lok Adalats are convened once or twice a month. “There is a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,500 for every session I attend. I am also entitled to travel expenses etc. But the association, responsibility and honour are more important than the money,” said Mondal. Ranjita Sinha, member of he West Bengal Transgender Development Board said Mondal got the job without any recommendation from either the board or any association representing the third gender. “And I am sure she will do well,” said Sinha.

Bengal’s transgender development board all-around failure, alleges member Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, : Jul 04, 2017

The West Bengal Transgender Development Board was set up with much fanfare. But two years down the line, a board member tells HT that nothing seems to be moving.

Ranjita Sinha, who is a member of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board alleged that none of the promises more than two years ago has been fulfilled so far. (Samir Jana)

In June 2015, the transgender community in West Bengal was elated after the Mamata Banerjee government set up the state transgender development board — the first in the country — with the first transgender college principal in the country, Manabi Bandopadhyay, as its vice-chairperson. It was a step, members of the completely marginalised community thought, that might become a watershed moment helping them channelise a few state benefits towards them, and on a broader plane, initiate the process of bringing them closer to the mainstream.

But two years after its formation, that air of excitement and expectancy has given way to despair and despondency, with the board members themselves telling HT that there has been little progress in any of the four promises made by the chairperson of the board, Dr Sashi Panja, who is also the state minister of women & child development and social welfare minister.

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Tired of waiting, the board members have finally  spoken out to HT, highlighting how

the functioning of the board has suffered since its high-profile creation in May 2015.

Transgender activist and film personality Tista Das alleged that despite repeated appeals and promises, sex reassignment surgery facilities are yet to be introduced in any state-run hospital in Bengal. (Samir Jana)

Not known to mince words, board member Ranjita Sinha, told HT, “The first basic flaw is conducting a proper census of people from transgender community, which include trans-women (male to female), trans-men (female to male) and hijras or eunuchs. According to the board’s record, the number is just 700. But as far figures compiled by different activist groups, the number is at least 30,000 and I think, it is even higher if a proper census is conducted.”

There are also complaints of lackadaisical attitude to even holding regular meetings. “While the board members are supposed to meet once a month, there has only been five meetings in 24 months,” said Sinha.

The board that was the first development board for transgenders by any Indian state has 15 members of whom six are from the community, an officer each from the departments of health, education, police, women & child, social welfare and two film personalities (actor Churni Ganguly and scriptwriter Leena Ganguly) apart from the chairperson and vice chairperson.

Tamil Nadu was the first state to set up a welfare board for the community in 2008. Maharastra set up its welfare board in 2014. Then followed Bengal with a development board in 2015. Andhra Pradesh is in the process of setting up its board now.

Members of the transgender community in Kolkata allege that the development board has failed to carry out awareness campaigns about equal rights for them. (Samir Jana)

Interestingly, two years ago the Bengal government began on a moral high ground. “The word ‘welfare’ indicates an attitude of charity, while ‘development’ confers a sense of rights among the marginalised community,” Panja remarked when the board was announced in Bengal.

All that seems to be a distant past now. “Though we emphasise the need to hold regular meetings, the constant refrain is that the government officers have other preoccupations,” alleged Sinha, who runs an NGO for transgenders in Kolkata.

The second promise, that is yet to be fulfilled, pointed out transgender rights activist and a trans-woman cinema silver screen personality, Tista Das, is introduction sex reassignment surgery (SRS) facilities in all the 17 state-run medical colleges and hospitals in the state.

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“Had it been introduced, the cost of SRS would have come down to a great extent. Second, the health hazards related to these complicated surgeries would have been taken care of to a great extent. Till today, forget about introduction of SRS facilities and allotment of special units for it, even the system of pre-surgery counseling has not been introduced in a single state- run medical college & hospital,” said Tista Das. She runs an agency called SRS Solutions to take care of pre-surgery counseling.

Vice chairperson of the development board, Manabi Banerjee, thinks that if any member has so many grievances about the functioning of the board, she should resign and stop accepting the monthly honorarium. (HT Photo)

Echoing Tista, Sinha said that she, along with some other board members from the community has raised this issue several times in different board meetings. “However, the government always has excuses like fund-crunch or lack of availability of doctors,” Sinha said.

Repeated attempts by this correspondent to contact minister and board chairperson, Dr Sashi Panja for her comments failed as she chose not to respond to phone calls and text messages.

The board vice-chairperson, Manabi Bandopadhyay, however, came forward in defense of the board. “Initial work has started to introduce SRS facility at SSKM and R G Kar Medical Colleges & Hospitals. This is a complicated process and cannot happen overnight. My suggestion the complaining board members that they should resign from the board first and forego the monthly honorarium of Rs 10,000 before approaching the media to malign the board,” said Bandopadhyay.

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Joe Dutta, a trans-man and an employee of state agriculture department, said that the third important promise that is yet to be fulfilled is setting up separate public toilets for people from transgender community. “Over two years have passed since the promise was made and not a single such toilet has been set up anywhere in the state,” Dutta said.

In a counterargument, Manabi Bandopadhyay said that the board deliberately did not go ahead with the idea of special toilets, since it apprehends that these toilets might turn out of dens of unsocial activities.

Trans-woman Bharat Natyam dancer, Shreya Karmakar, who has to do some odd jobs since she is unable to get suitable employment said the board has also failed to secure jobs that were promised in the civic police force. “Not a single one from the community is yet to get a job in the civic police,” Shreya said.

Manabi Bandyopadhyay rebutted saying there was not a single application from the community, and therefore, neither the board nor the government can be blamed for it. Ranjita Sinha claimed that she and some other board members recommended a panel from the community. “But a single one among those recommended by us received interview calls,” Sinha said.

Aavya Nath, a trans-woman fashion designer and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) graduate said that the creation of the board brought hopes for the people of the community for a better life. “But after two years of its formation we have realized that the board is good-for-nothing and we have to solve our own problems without waiting for any support from the board,” she said.

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