In­dia trans­gen­der women still face bias de­spite laws

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Trans­gen­der women in In­dia face per­sis­tent bias that de­nies them ed­u­ca­tion and jobs de­spite In­dia hav­ing pro­gres­sive laws for trans­gen­der peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing ac­tivist. In a land­mark judg­ment in 2014, In­dia’s Supreme Court ruled that trans­gen­der peo­ple had equal rights un­der the law, and granted le­gal sta­tus to the third gen­der. Along­side the right to marry and in­herit prop­erty, they are also el­i­gi­ble for quo­tas in jobs and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. But most of In­dia’s es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion trans­gen­der peo­ple face dis­crim­i­na­tion from a young age with trans­gen­der women par­tic­u­larly abused, re­flect­ing the en­trenched pa­tri­archy in the coun­try, said Laxmi Narayan Tri­pathi, a founder of the Asia Pa­cific Trans­gen­der Net­work.

She said many trans­gen­der peo­ple are thrown out of their homes by their fam­i­lies, lack a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and are de­nied jobs. They are forced into sex work, beg­ging or danc­ing at wed­dings to make a liv­ing. “We have among the most pro­gres­sive laws for trans­gen­der peo­ple: the 2014 judg­ment gives us the right to choose our gen­der iden­tity, so if I be­lieve I’m a woman, I’m a woman,” Laxmi said at a panel hosted by the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion and Asia So­ci­ety on Mon­day.

“But peo­ple are still bi­ased. That’s why no one will hire us, ex­cept in the non-profit sec­tor, and we have no choice but to beg or do sex work.” Laxmi, who prefers to go by her first name, was born into an ortho­dox Brah­min fam­ily. She be­came one of the most flam­boy­ant ad­vo­cates for trans­gen­der peo­ple, pe­ti­tion­ing to rec­og­nize the cat­e­gory on all of­fi­cial doc­u­ments in­clud­ing pass­ports. Trans­gen­der women, known as hi­jras, have long been con­sid­ered aus­pi­cious in In­dia. They are fea­tured in Hindu mythol­ogy, and their bless­ings are sought at wed­dings and births, even as abuse and ex­ploita­tion are com­mon.

Treated as in­fe­rior

Trans­gen­der peo­ple were in­cluded in In­dia’s cen­sus sur­vey of 2011 for the first time. There are 490,000 trans­gen­der peo­ple in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, a num­ber that ac­tivists say is only a frac­tion of the real num­ber. But there are moves to ex­tend more ben­e­fits to the com­mu­nity. The east­ern state of Odisha this year be­came the first to give trans­gen­der peo­ple wel­fare ben­e­fits such as pen­sion and hous­ing. In­dia is also re­vis­ing its re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion scheme for bonded la­bor­ers to in­clude trans­gen­der peo­ple.

Laxmi said while the law is sup­port­ive, bi­ases against trans­gen­der women re­flect the en­trenched pa­tri­archy in In­dia, where the mis­treat­ment of women has be­come a ma­jor is­sue in re­cent years. In­dian women face a bar­rage of threats rang­ing from child marriage, dowry killings and hu­man traf­fick­ing to rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, largely due to deep-rooted at­ti­tudes that view them as in­fe­rior to men.

“When to be fem­i­nine it­self is not ac­cept­able, then ev­ery­thing be­comes taboo: red lip­stick is taboo, be­ing flam­boy­ant is taboo, dress­ing a cer­tain way is taboo,” said Laxmi, wear­ing a bright or­ange sa­ree with chunky jew­elry, and her trade­mark scar­let lip­stick and red sin­door on her fore­head. “When a woman still be­comes pow­er­ful, the pa­tri­archy as­sas­si­nates her char­ac­ter and calls her names.” But the com­mu­nity can­not wait for laws to im­prove its lot, and must con­tinue to fight for its rights, she said. “No one will bring us our rights to our doorstep; we have to lobby, we have to all be ac­tivists. We have to de­mand and take our rights,” she said. — Reuters

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