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Activists prepare for India marriage equality ruling

Supreme Court hearing to take place on April 18

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The world’s largest democracy is at the crossroad of monumental change. 

India’s more than 2.5 million LGBTQ+ and intersex people are looking at the country’s Supreme Court with great hopes because it will hold another hearing on marriage equality on April 18.

The five justices on March 13 heard the issue.

The Supreme Court last Dec. 14 asked the Indian government to respond to two petitions seeking a transfer of marriage equality petitions before the Delhi High Court to itself. The government on March 12 filed a response to the Supreme Court.

The government opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriage and told the highest court that same-sex couples living together as partners and having a sexual relationship with the same sex individual, which is now decriminalized, is not comparable with Indian family unit — a husband, a wife and a child born out of the union. The government also told the Supreme Court that same-sex marriage is not compatible with the Indian ethos and morality.

According to the response filed by the government in the high court, the institution of marriage is crucial in India. It provides a sense of safety, security and companionship for the members of society. It plays a crucial role in the rearing of children and impacts their upbringing. While objecting to same-sex marriage in India, the federal government said that marriage between a biological male and female fall under personal law or laws — the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Christian Marriage Act of 1872, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 and the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969.

The April 18 hearing will be live telecast on the Supreme Court’s website and YouTube.

“The Indian Constitution gives equal rights to everybody. You cannot differentiate based on the gender of the people. Whether it’s the Transgender rights bill or abrogation of section 377, everyone has recognized the presence of the LGBTQ community,” said Vijay Nair of Udaan Trust, an organization based in Mumbai. “How can you discriminate just based on male or female? The constitution does not discriminate based on gender, but the people running the constitution are now doing that, which is very unethical.”

Nair, while talking with the Washington Blade, said that he has faith in the Supreme Court as the court will give the verdict based on justice prevailing for anyone in the society, whether it is positive or negative or neutral, the court will deliver justice and will treat everyone equally.

Law and Justice Minister Kiran Rijiju, while appearing on India Today Conclave, a news TV program that invites experts, politicians and think tanks to discuss different issues in the country, on March 18 said Parliament must debate same-sex marriage and draft a law because it has representatives from across the country. Rijiju suggested that the Supreme Court could later change the status if it finds the decision against the spirit of the constitution.

Nair, while reacting to Rijiju’s statement, told the Blade that it is always good to take people on board because it should be a consultative process. 

“People should not be unaware of things and it is always good to have people’s consultation,” said Nair. “We are okay with the process.”

Sadam Hanjabam, founder of Ya_all, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organization based in Manipur, told the Blade the government still looks at the family from the angle of male and female.

“If we look into the judgment of section 377, where it was said that homosexuals were criminal. But again, the judgment conflicts this time when saying two people who love each other must be a man and a woman. The government needs to reconsider the fact from the point of human beings rather than just gender,” said Hanjabam. “It is a very long route going through the Parliament as tried earlier. Many of the members of Parliament are unaware of this issue. So even if it is discussed or brought up in the Parliament, it is a new issue to them, and it is not an important issue to them. So, the best way is to go to the Supreme Court because it was the Supreme Court who removed section 377.”

The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in India.

While there is a wide discussion going on in the country on same-sex marriage, a group of former judges on March 24 publicly opposed marriage equality.

“We respectfully urge the conscious members of the society including those who are pursuing the issue of same-sex marriage In Supreme Court to refrain from doing so in the best interest of Indian society and culture,” reads the statement. “The marriage, as well as the family system in India, is sui generis. In our humble opinion, legalizing same-sex marriage will strike at the very root of the family system and thus will have a devastating impact on society at large.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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India

India’s general election heats up

Transgender issues are among those being discussed

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Barkha Trehan (Photo courtesy of Barkha Trehan)

NEW DELHI — Amid heatwaves in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the world’s biggest election is raising the temperature even higher.

The temperature in the Indian capital on the morning of April 18 reached 107 degrees, and the sun blazed like a furnace. In the political corridors, however, the sweat wasn’t just from the heat, but from the fervent preparation for and in anticipation of the election results.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the current ruling party, aggressively prepared for the 2024 general election months ago but the other regional and national parties still seem to be preparing while the election has started in the country. 

The Washington Blade traveled to New Delhi and witnessed the political party’s campaign and preparations. 

Home Minister Amit Shah, representing the BJP, was aggressively campaigning in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat state. BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda was campaigning in Assam state.

The Blade interviewed Barkha Trehan, a political activist in New Delhi. She said that while various political parties in India address transgender and women’s issues in their campaign rhetoric, the Indian National Congress fails to translate its promises into action at the grassroots level.

“Political parties, especially the Congress party in the country, have talked and written enough in their election manifesto, but in last many years they have done nothing,” Barkha told the Blade. “In the last 10 years, we have seen that whatever Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says or has written in their election manifesto, we have seen that work done on the ground level. Let’s say it is a women’s issue or transgender community issue, or any other issues like infrastructure issues, everything is visible.”

Barkha said that discussing an issue and taking tangible action on it are distinct endeavors. 

She emphasized the BJP’s efforts at the grassroots level, whether concerning trans issues or other matters, deserve recognition. The BJP, according to her, has undertaken numerous initiatives for the trans community that skill development programs and providing loans for startups.

“BJP wants to work for all without any discrimination,” Barkha told the Blade. “They want to create a good image of our country in the world, but the Congress party always pulls down the fame. They always go abroad and discredit the country by talking negative all the time. They think this is the only way to win election in India, but this won’t work out for them.”

Talking about trans issues, Barkha said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met people from the trans community. She told the Blade that he is trying to motivate the trans community to take advantage of employment opportunities. 

“Before Modi, nobody used to look at the transgender community,” said Barkha. “No one used to talk about them. When the prime minister’s video went viral on the internet and television while he had a conversation with the transgender community, other people started and felt inspired to work for the transgender community and talk to them.” 

indian prime minister narendra modi speaks with a transgender business owner

Barkha told the Blade these things send a message to the trans community that there are people who are listening and who will always stand by it. 

She noted the trans community has always faced discrimination, neglect, and abuse in India. This political outreach, according to Barkha, sends a strong message that the trans community is as important as anyone else, they have the same value as any other citizens in the country, and they deserve a better life. She told the Blade trans people can make money when they can learn new skills, and they will have self-confidence and self-respect when they can earn a living.

Discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in India

India’s trans community has suffered discrimination for many years.

An openDemocracy report notes 80 percent of trans Indians are either engaged in sex work or begging. India in 2019 passed a law, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, with aims to protect the rights of trans people, their welfare, and matters connected therewith and incidental thereto. 

The Indian government and BJP in 2022 came up with a socialist scheme for trans people. Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise is a program to support trans people who are engaged in begging. It provides them access to medical facilities, counseling, education, skill development, and economic linkages with the support of state governments and local urban bodies along with volunteer and community-based organizations. 

The Congress in Telangana state was recently accused of disrespecting the trans community when Revanth Reddy, the Congress party’s sitting chief minister, sent anti-trans slurs that targeted the state’s opposition party.

The Blade reached out to the Congress party’s office in New Delhi, but it denied the interview request.

BJP’s position on LGBTQ+ issues questioned

The Blade while in New Delhi also visited the Aam Aadmi Party’s headquarters.

Despite the scorching sun overhead, Delhi residents sought refuge from the sweltering temperatures. The Blade, amid the election fervor and campaign hustle, interviewed Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon. She said the BJP is regressive and seeks to intrude into a person’s bedroom, dietary choices, and other aspects of their personal lives.

“If BJP comes back to power, the party will keep doing what it is doing now, not supporting LGBTQ rights,” said Menon. “I think, there is no doubt in the LGBTQ community that one cannot have BJP in power and live safely. If we want to give equal rights to every citizen of this country, then only the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance is the only chance.”

She said the Aam Aadmi Party always tries to give LGBTQ+ people a chance, but the party in this general election has few seats (in parliament) for which to fight because it is part of the opposition alliance.

“We always think if you want the change, the LGBTQ community must have a representation in the parliament,” said Menon. “So, we always try to make LGBTQ community in the country politically active.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Indian political parties for the first time include LGBTQ rights 

The world’s largest democratic exercise will begin in India on April 19 as citizens begin to cast their votes in the country’s election

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Candidates from the Indian National Congress campaigning in Mumbai. The Indian National Congress is the world's largest democratic political organization. (Photo Credit: The Indian National Congress/Facebook)

NEW DELHI — The world’s largest democratic exercise will begin in India on April 19 as citizens begin to cast their votes in the country’s election.

This year’s election is different because national level political parties for the first time are promising to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples as part of their election platforms. 

The Indian National Congress, one of India’s oldest political parties, promised after wide consultation that it would introduce a bill that would recognize civil unions between couples who are part of the LGBTQ community. The party, which has governed India for the majority of the period since independence from the U.K. in 1947, has refrained from taking a stance on laws that include Section 377, which criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Then-Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad in 2011 when the INC was in power said homosexuality is a disease. He made the controversial comment while speaking at an HIV/AIDS conference in New Delhi, the Indian capital.

“Unfortunately, this disease has come to our country too,” said Azad. “Where a man has sex with another man, which is completely unnatural and should not happen but does.”

When the Delhi High Court was hearing the Naz Foundation case, the Home Affairs Ministry opposed the striking down of Section 377 based on its belief that homosexuality cannot be morally condoned. The INC never struck down Section 377, which criminalized homosexuality, in parliament.

A 5-judge panel on the Supreme Court on Sept. 6, 2018, decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on April 4 unveiled its platform with a range of socialist commitments, including support for LGBTQ rights. Among these pledges is to amend the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 to address community concerns and ensure legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples akin to marriage. 

The platform also outlined plans to introduce a bill similar to the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which allows partners to be listed as dependents and facilitating like inheritance, alimony in the event of divorce and other issues. The party further pledged to enact a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill that would include LGBTQ people, ensure quotas in educational institutions and implement horizontal reservations in employment. 

Addressing the issue of crimes against LGBTQ people, the platform promised to treat such offenses on par with crimes against heterosexuals. The platform also calls for tackling bullying, violence and harassment of gender non-conforming and LGBTQ people in educational settings, enforcing anti-hazing policies and combating hazing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The platform further touched issues related to transition and informed consent.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is a law that provides for civil unions among Indians and Indian nationals who live abroad, regardless of the religion or faith followed by either party. This law enables people from two different religious backgrounds to enter into marriage. Parliament in 2019 passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act that extended rights to trans people.

Brinda Karat, a former member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, and leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke with the Washington Blade and said the current government has homophobic ideas that are not acceptable to the party.

The ruling government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is striving to secure more than 400 parliament seats in the upcoming election, aiming for a substantial majority. 

Various polls conducted by Indian news organizations indicate a probable victory for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. In response to the BJP’s dominance, Congress and several national and regional parties have joined forces as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. 

This alliance comprises 26 opposition political parties. Despite its formation, however, there is no clear coalition strategy in place and only two parties have included LGBTQ-specific policies in their election platforms. 

The Blade reached out to Congress’ spokesperson for comment, but has not received a response. The BJP also did not respond to a request for comment.

The party has yet to release its election platform. 

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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New Indian immigration law excludes LGBTQ+ people

Government to offer fast-track citizenship to nationals from neighboring countries

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian government on March 11 implemented a law that allows undocumented people who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and other neighboring countries before Dec. 31, 2014, to receive fast-track citizenship.

Parliament in 2019 passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides citizenship to undocumented people who are minorities — mainly because they are Hindu, Jain, Sikhs, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — who face persecution in their countries of origin. The rule that took effect this month does not include LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ Pakistanis face discrimination based on gender identity, violence, homicide, threats and hate speech, discrimination in accessing employment and access to housing. Lesbians, in particular, face challenges that include sexual harassment, violence and a greater chance of losing housing and jobs if sexual orientation is revealed. 

According to the Human Rights Watch report in 2022, Afghanistan’s gender minorities have faced grave threats to their safety and lives under the Taliban regime. Even before the Taliban took over the country, former President Ashraf Ghani passed a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relationships.

According to the Taliban’s statement given to the Built, a German tabloid, before the fall of Kabul, the country’s capital, in 2021, gay people would be punished in two ways, either by stoning or by standing behind a wall that will fall on them.

A 2016 Human Rights Watch from 2016 notes the killings of several LGBTQ+ activists and illegal arrests by police in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission in 2013 asked the government to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. The commission acknowledged police physically and sexually assault LGBTQ+ people, and make arbitrary arrests based on an individual’s appearance. 

Although India’s CAA does not fast-track citizenship for new arrivals but sticks to the cut-off date of December 2014; there are no records of any LGBTQ+ Muslims coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh to India. 

The Indian Home Affairs Ministry says the applicant must provide six types of documents and specify the “date of entry” in India. 

“These rules will now enable minorities persecuted on religious grounds in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship in our nation,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in an X post on March 11. “With this notification PM (Prime Minister) Shri Narendra Modi has delivered on another commitment and realized the promise of the makers of our constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries.”

More than 1,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community protested against the law in New Delhi, India’s capital, after Parliament passed it in 2019. Tejasvi Surya, an MP from Bengaluru and a member of the ruling party, said those who are protesting against the CAA, especially LGBTQ+ members want Pakistani Muslims to come into India. 

“Let me assure all of you, you’re seriously misplaced. There is no iota of idea or freedom or recognition of LGBTQ rights in Pakistan,” said Surya. “You are proudly going about your LGBTQ rights and living a dignified existence here and fighting for a more dignified life in India because we are not Pakistan. So, if you let all the Muslims of Pakistan to come into India, then there will be no questions of LGBTQ rights in India.”

The applicant can apply for citizenship in India through an online portal with listed documents that include birth certificates, tenancy records, identity papers and any license, school, or educational certificate issued by a government authority in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The applicant needs to produce an eligibility certificate issued by a reputable community institution that confirms they belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian community and remains a member of it. 

Rani Patel, an activist, and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with Transgender Indians, said the LGBTQ+ community is always neglected.

“Every country has a set of rules and regulations,” said Patel. “We cannot encroach on other’s area. We can take care of our LGBTQ community. We cannot say that we can take your LGBTQ people. We have a huge population, and this is the government’s call.”

Guru Prasad Mohanty, an LGBTQ+ rights activist in Uttarakhand, told the Washington Blade that the Indian government has always excluded the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The LGBTQ community in India has been left out in every sector and in every form, so I am not surprised that they left the community,” said Mohanty. “I would have been happy, not only me but all the members of the community, if LGBTQ community has been included in this.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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India broadcast authority asks TV station to delete video deemed offensive to LGBTQ+ community

Activist Indrajeet Ghorpad filed complaint

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India Today broadcast (YouTube screenshot)

MUMBAI — India’s News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority on Feb. 28 asked a television station to delete a video that contained objectionable remarks against the LGBTQ+ community. 

The India Today video report’s headline was “Nudity sparks outrage at USA Pride parades: How India’s LGBTQ+ lead responsibly.” The clip reportedly contained factual inaccuracies, spread fear and demonized the LGBTQ+ community.

NBDSA has asked India Today to remove all hyperlinks to the video from every one of its platforms. The regulatory agency has issued guidelines for broadcasters about the LGBTQ+ community and asked to circulate it among all its editors and members. The broadcasting authority announced the directives after hearing a complaint that Indrajeet Ghorpad, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, filed.

Ghorpad said the program did not comply with the principles of “accuracy, neutrality, objectivity, good taste, decency and others.” Ghorpad also said it portrayed Pride parades in the U.S. in a negative light and unfavorably compared them with India’s LGBTQ+ community.

The NBDSA had received several complaints on the community’s portrayal. It issued five guidelines to sensitize and bring objectivity when covering the LGBTQ+ community in India, apart from the existing code of ethics and broadcasting standards.

The NBDSA on March 1 issued guidelines on how to report on issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community with accuracy, objectivity and sensitivity, and further said that non-sensitive and inaccurate reporting regarding the community has serious social repercussions.

The guidelines say “reporting should not sensationalize or create panic, distress or undue fear among viewers.” They also state broadcasters must avoid broadcasting any news that sensationalizes the issues related to the LGBTQ+ community, perpetuates stereotypes or creates fear in respect of the community.

The recommendations say broadcasters should refrain from using any expression or slur that may be construed as “hate speech” against the LGBTQ+ community. They also note broadcasters while covering any issue concerning the LGBTQ+ community must ensure their reporting does not promote homophobia or transphobia, or negative stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community.

The guidelines say broadcasters must respect the privacy of LGBTQ+ people and not disclose personal information, including gender identity or sexual orientation of a person without their consent. The guidelines further state broadcasters should use inclusive and gender-neutral language, and respect the individuals’ preferred pronouns and names. Broadcasters, according to the guidelines, must strive for diverse representation in their coverage of the LGBTQ+ community and ensure voices from different segments of the LGBTQ+ community are provided a platform to express their views.

The incident is not a first Indian media. 

TV9 Telugu, a Telugu language television station, in 2011 did a sting operation on LGBTQ+ members of a gay dating site, over which the news channel faced the community’s wrath in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. The channel at that time broadcasted the operation all over the country and released profiles and pictures of the site’s users. 

The LGBTQ+ community protested outside the channel’s office in Mumbai by wearing condoms on their middle fingers.

NBDSA in April 2022 sanctioned TV9 Teluguand Sakshi TV, another Telugu-language 24-hour news channel, for sensationalizing a police raid in Hyderabad after neighbors complained of loud noise. The two channels broadcasted visuals of the party and individuals attending it, violating privacy and highlighting their sexual orientation without their consent.

Negha Shahin, a Transgender Indian actress, told the Washington Blade that social media today has become an unsafe, toxic and hate-spreading tool with regards to Trans and queer people.

“Mocking LGBTQIA+ folks is becoming a new trend. Content creators are creating content against queer folks, dangerous things are getting attention and triggering homophobia and transphobia,” said Shahin. “Meanwhile TV media like India Today is playing major part and considered as responsible news network. If they did not follow the guidelines then how will the society will follow? Journalists, politicians, actors, police, lawyers whoever addressing issues related to (the) minority community in India, should mind the glossary. They cannot be transphobic or homophobic. They cannot oppress, misgender, following stereotypes and creating false statement or news in the media.”

Shahin said news channels in India that do not following the guidelines are showing their hatred against the LGBTQ+ community. She said these incidents remind everyone that uprooting stereotypes and homophobia from society in every form is important.

Harish Iyer, a prominent equal rights activist in India, told the Blade that accepting different sexuality is not a Western or Indian concept, but rather a scientific one that cuts across geographies and sex.

“If channels are broadcasting this, they are not doing against gender or sexuality but against science and humanity,” said Iyer. “More than expunging and deleting the video, the corrective actions like watchdogs will ensure corrective actions are required. The guidelines are in sync with what the Supreme Court of India and the Constitution of India stand for. With a name like India Today, they stand against the very tenet of Indianism which is enshrined in the constitution that provides equal opportunity and equal protection of the law against any discrimination regardless of gender and sexuality, so I think, India Today, should not have the India in their name because that goes against the tenet of Indian constitution and the Supreme Court’s verdict as well. There should be something mandatory for the news channels, and not just the guidelines.”

India Today did not respond to the Blade’s multiple requests for comment.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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India court allows Trans woman to participate in Armed Forces’ youth wing

Feb. 29 ruling in Kerala state upheld other judge’s decision

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

KOCHI, India — A Kerala High Court judge on Feb. 29 upheld another magistrate’s ruling that allowed a Transgender woman to participate in the Indian Armed Forces’ youth wing as a female.

The High Court set aside a part of the order that directed the central government to amend the NCC Act to allow Trans people to enroll based on their gender identity.

“When the petitioner has been given the identity of a female, she is certainly entitled to be enrolled in the NCC under section 6(2) of the NCC Act,” said Justice Anu Sivaraman. “In the light of the aforesaid provisions of the Transgenders Act and also in the light of the dictum laid down by the Apex Court in National Legal Service Authority (NALSA).” 

The judge said that the court cannot direct the government to amend the law, but expressed hope that the Indian government would amend the NCC Act to expressly allow the entry of Trans candidates to the NCC.

The Kerala High Court said that the fact that the National Cadet Corps Act does not recognize the third gender cannot be a reasonable justification to deny entry to a Trans person.

Hina Haneefa had filed a petition with the High Court that challenged a section of the NCC Act that only allowed males and females under Section 6 of the law to enroll in the Cadet Corps.

“In view of the specific provisions of the 2019 act, a Transgender person has the right to be recognized not only as a Transgender but also a right to self-perceived gender, i.e. the female gender,” said Sivaraman. “The denial of enrollment is unsustainable. The petitioner will be entitled to participate in the selection process on the basis of her application. If she is successful, the petitioner will be enrolled in the NCC Unit.”

Haneefa is a Trans woman who applied to enroll in the NCC after undergoing gender-affirming procedures and getting her identity card. The NCC denied her application. 

Parliament in 2019 passed Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019, which extended rights to Trans people.  

While talking with the Washington Blade, Kalki Subramaniam, an Indian Trans activist, queer artist, entrepreneur and actor, said Trans people in the country have to fight for the inclusion of Trans people in all sectors.

“We have to go to the court, we have to fight with the system, then the high court directs the state and the central government to take inclusive steps. Again and again, repetitive,” said Subramaniam. “Why should Trans people should struggle for everything? I am sure, the central government is working towards equality and inclusion because they recently published Equal Opportunity Policy for Transgender Persons. The government will consider this to include trans people in NCC. What I am looking for is the inclusion of Transgender people in the Indian military. That could be a long term plan, but it is possible and ultimately rests in the government’s hands.”

Subramaniam expressed her firm belief that all Indian citizens, including members of the Trans community, deserve the opportunity to serve the country. She emphasized the potential of Trans individuals to contribute to national defense and public service, highlighting both the military and civil services as avenues for their inclusion. Subramaniam voiced her confidence in the central government of India’s willingness to address this issue and expressed hope for future action.

Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ+ activist and founder of People for Change, one of India’s premier advocacy groups, said he supports the Kerala High Court ruling.

“This decision is a significant step towards inclusivity and recognizing the rights of Transgender individuals to participate fully in all aspects of society,” said Saha. “The NCC Act currently only allows for the enrollment of male and female cadets, which is discriminatory against Transgender individuals and reinforces harmful binary gender norms. By ordering the central government to amend the NCC Act to accommodate Transgender individuals, the Kerala High Court is acknowledging the need for legal protections and equal opportunities for all genders.”

Saha said the decision will set a positive precedent for other institutions and organizations to follow suit in recognizing and accommodating Trans people. Souvik added it sends a clear message that discrimination based on gender identity is not acceptable and that Trans people have the right to equal opportunities and access to resources.

“Moreover, allowing Transgender individuals to enroll in the NCC provides them with valuable opportunities for personal development, leadership training, and civic engagement,” he said. “By participating in programs like the NCC, Transgender individuals can gain skill, confidence, and a sense of belonging, which are essential for their overall well-being and success.”

“Overall, the Kerala High Court’s decision to allow a Transgender woman to enroll in the NCC is a significant victory for LGBTQ rights and a crucial step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society,” he added. “It is imperative that the central government swiftly amends the NCC Act to ensure that Transgender individuals are not excluded or discriminated against based on their gender identity.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Indian government announces equal opportunity policy for Trans people

Privacy among regulation’s key tenants

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — The Indian government has announced a first of its kind equal opportunity policy for Transgender people.

The policy will prohibit the disclosure of a Trans person’s gender identity without their consent as the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules 2020 requires. The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry says the Equal Opportunity Policy for Transgender Persons will encourage the fair treatment of Trans people and create workplaces free from discrimination, harassment and bias. 

The policy seeks to ensure a Trans employee’s the right to choose a pronoun, gender and a chosen name — every business, non-governmental organization and other employers in India will be required address the Trans individual with the chosen names in all workplace communications. The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has circulated the notice to all the states and chief secretaries and asked them to ensure the swift implementation of the policy.

The notified policy highlights the importance of maintaining confidentiality of gender identity. 

“Information related to gender identity will be treated with utmost confidentiality,” it reads. “Employees are expected to respect the privacy of their colleagues and refrain from disclosing any such information without explicit consent.”

The policy also states a business’ HR department will launch an inquiry that could lead to sanctions if the policy is violated. The policy also prohibits bullying against Trans people in the workplace.

“Harassment or bullying based on gender identity is strictly prohibited,” it reads. “Any reported incident will be promptly and thoroughly investigated, and appropriate corrective actions will be taken.”

Every organization will have a grievance redress system in order to address policy violations. Workplaces will also be required to have infrastructure facilities for Trans employees — unisex bathrooms and amenities that include hygiene products, for example — for trans people to effectively discharge their duties.

Sudhanshu Latad, an advocacy manager at Humsafar Trust, an organization that promotes LGBTQ+ rights in India, told the Washington Blade he supports the initiative, while adding a person’s identity does play a role in their experiences.

“The care and support, let’s say in this case a Trans person requires will be very different than support a cis woman will require,” said Latad. “They need different short of bases to be covered to be able to perform to the same expectations that a cis man like me would require to perform in a situation or a role.” 

“It is important to give everyone an equitable platform, this is a welcome step because it discloses that the government is keen on working with various communities,” he added. “This formal acknowledgement or expression of interest in including gender minorities at workplace by the central government is a welcome move.”

Latad nevertheless told the Blade the policy alone “would not be enough” to address discrimination based on gender identity.

“There needs to be enough focus dissemination of this policy within the existing workforce,” he said. “Until and unless a senior manager from the government understands the use and need of pronouns in the communities … the implementation of this amazing policy will not happen on the ground.”

Latad told the Blade that sensitization, roundtables and equal dialogue will help unlearn and then learn which is the way forward for providing equal rights to the community. He said the use of chosen pronouns does seem like a small effort, but it does take a lot of effort and it is important. Latad added everyone, not just employers, needs to be taught equality.

Doctor Yoga S. Nambiar, founder and director of Global Rights Foundation and the first Trans person in India to hold a PhD in mental health, said the new policy is good. They noted the government has announced many policies since the Supreme Court issued its National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. the Union of India ruling, but they’re only on paper.

“Till the time the government does not take the initiative to take care of the policies, nothing is going to work,” said Yoga. “Government promised housing for Trans people, government promised Transgender cell in police stations, nothing has came in force as of now. So, if things workout, it’s good, if not, we are struggling anyways. We are fighting for our rights.”

The Supreme Court in the NALSA case in 2014 ruled in favor of the Trans community, saying state and central governments must fully recognize Trans people under the law in order for them to receive an education and health care without discrimination. The Supreme Court also said Trans people will be considered a “third gender.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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New Delhi high school students champion LGBTQ+ rights

Tagore International School’s Breaking Barriers program making a difference

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Tagore International School in New Delhi (Washington Blade photo by Ankush Kumar)

NEW DELHI — New Delhi woke up to a frosty morning on Feb. 3. The air was crisp and biting, as a thick blanket of fog enveloped the surroundings in a ghostly haze. Amid this wintry scene, Tagore International School – Vasant Vihar bustled with life, its buildings standing strong against the chilly breeze while teachers hurried for an outdoor tour on the weekend. 

In India traditions and customs sparkle like jewels in every corner. In the vast land, where old beliefs often hold strong, Tagore International School in South Delhi is a special place where something magical is happening. The school is becoming the beacon of inclusivity. 

The Washington Blade visited the school and talked to the students, board members and its project coordinator. 

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya Kalra, a 12th grade student at the school, said her parents are understanding and supportive. Vaanya, with a smile on her face, said she had free access to the internet when she was younger. It was during this time that she discovered a campaign called Breaking Barriers at her school that aims to support and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights.

“Breaking Barriers has existed for the past 10 years at my school, and I kind of always wanted to join it,” said Vaanya. “I did when I had the opportunity to join it.”

Vaanya, with a mixed feeling of sadness and anger in her eyes, opened up about her journey and said people were reacting differently to people who were different. Vaanya, who has always been an empathetic person, saw unnecessary hatred around gender and sexuality over the internet, and it became difficult for her to ignore it. She excitedly said she had time, energy and empathy and decided to join Breaking Barriers at her school.

Vaanya told the Blade she had the conversation with her friends and family before she joined the campaign. Her family was accepting of everything. She confidently shared that she enjoyed her journey in Breaking Barriers while supporting the LGBTQ+ community in her school and campaigning for it in other schools. Vaanya said she is considering higher studies in international relations.

While talking to the Blade, Vaanya expressed her extreme displeasure with an Indian news outlet for accusing Breaking Barriers members of ‘brainwashing children.’ She said that when she went online for a meeting on Breaking Barriers activities, random people took over the platform to dictate how wrong this campaign was.

“It was a very difficult journey,” said Vaanya.

Tagore International School Student Development Advisor Shivanee Sen joined the interview virtually from New York and discussed the campaign’s background. 

She said Safina Ameen and Sohini Chakrabarti were student leaders and participated in the South Asia competition for an expansive school-wide social background and Shivanee chose to join the group. Sohini, Safina and Shivanee, at their young age, sat together and decided to work in gender space. While the discussion was going on, Shivanee suggested working in the field of gender and sexuality, and the other two happily agreed to work.

Shivanee said the initial group discussion was about working on women’s rights issue, but her idea was to work on other populations who suffer discrimination in India. Shivanee’s idea led the group of three young women to work on LGBTQ+ rights in India. Shivanee sent Sohini and Safina home for their parents’ consent and they luckily gave it. The group then started to work on LGBTQ+ rights at the school level.

From left: Sohini Chakrabarti and Shivanee Sen at a UNESCO conference.(Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Sohini, one Breaking Barriers’s founders, said that there was an institutional void around this thematic area across schools in India.

“These things are not being discussed in schools. I was also 13 years old when we began. So as a young kid who was trained by professionals from NGOs, and because we were on the field working on gender rights at the same time, I was talking to students older than I was, and teachers about sexuality which was quite strange and jarring to some people to have like a school-wide campaign on this thematic, because of its central kind of overarching challenge,” said Siddhi Pal, one of Breaking Barriers’ original members. “It was really hard for us to take the campaign to different schools as our work was labeled as criminal, illegal and brainwashing. Those kind of things were a huge barrier, but apart from that we were so onboard. We pushed through it and made it work. But 10 years ago subject mattered the most as we were all kids.”

While answering what kind of resistance the campaign faced from the parents, Shivanee said not much because all members joined in with pre-parental consent. Shivanee further said that in the past 10 years, her Breaking Barriers campaign that supports the LGBTQ+ community at schools rarely faced parental resistance.

“I am quite surprised that in past 10 years we haven’t really had parental pushback,” she said. “They might not be okay with their kids joining the campaign, but no parent has taken it upon themselves to try and stop the workshops happening at school.”

Expressing concern about how an Indian news outlet published a homophobic article about Breaking Barriers and Tagore International School, Vaanya said with extreme confidence that when negative news about the campaign and the members, especially in a newspaper, comes out that means the campaign is making a change.

Siddhi joined the interview from London and said the biggest source of support is when new students enroll each year. That’s when they see what their peers are doing and that helped further inspire the campaign.

“What I have heard from others over the years, people actually aspire to join the campaign as they get into more leadership position,” said Sohini. “It’s interesting to see as it was hard to start it off, and there were lots of challenges in the beginning, not to say there are not now, but to keep it going has been easier because every year more students come in, there is more and more information about the campaign. So, to keep it going has been really amazing.”

Tagore International School students (Photo courtesy of Priyanka Randhawa/Breaking Barriers)

Tagore International School Project Coordinator Priyanka Randhawa told the Blade the campaign selects the office holders from ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades — its president or vice president typically comes from the older classes, while any interested students can join it. The Breaking Barriers team at the school is turning the campaign into a movement and taking sessions in other schools as well.

“We go to other schools and take up sensitive issues with them,” said Randhawa. “At the workshop, we show a presentation in other schools, and explain terminology related to Breaking Barriers, we share the stories of transgenders and we try to touch on emotional aspects also.” 

“These workshops are meant for high school students only. We also do workshops for educators for sensitization,” added Randhawa. “We have also collaborated with NGOs like Naz Foundation, they train our students and sensitize on LGBTQ community.”

Priyanka said the campaign encourages other schools to start their own Breaking Barriers groups.

Jiya Chawla, a student at the Tagore International School and member of Breaking Barriers, told the Blade in New Delhi that she, along with Vaanya, joined the campaign four years ago.

“We have been to multiple schools. At least 20 schools offline and online we have been to more than 40 schools,” said Jiya. “We faced questions that were a homophobic point of view or a transphobic point of view. But we never said no you are wrong. We always take our time and try to understand where they are coming from. We try to break that stigma. We know that one session is not enough to break down generational prejudices, so we do face a lot of backlash sometimes, but social media has really come to our aid now. Because everybody is already aware of what this community is all about. So now, we don’t have to explain what the community is, but why equality is important.”

On the question of changing behavior outside the Breaking Barriers, Sohini told the Blade she expected the backlash and when she was going around campaigning for the LGBTQ+ community at Tagore International School in New Delhi. Her parents curiously asked her to do a presentation for them.

“It is a taboo topic, people don’t want to engage with you. But I was personally surprised by how curious people around me were,” said Siddhi with a big smile on her face. “My parents, once were like oh you are going around, doing this presentation, so why don’t you do it for us? I think that was one of the toughest initial presentations for me because you sit down with your parents and you go through talking about sex and sexuality.” 

“It was really surprising in the beginning, even when we started doing presentations for teachers, I think teachers had a lot more questions than students in the beginning,” she added. “My friends were more willing to engage and then family, of course there are people who do not want to engage at all as well.”

A 15-year-old student at Delhi Public School in 2022 died by suicide after being bullied for his sexuality at school. The administration did not take any action, even though his mother filed a complaint. 

Vaanya said it is important to create a safe space for students at school in order to adequately respond to these concerns. She said administrators and teachers were very supportive.

“Ensuring kids that it’s okay to feel different, it’s okay for you to have a different sexuality or act differently is very important. We have created a safe space, people understand that you do not have to bully others for it and they do not have to hate others for it,” said Vaanya. “Nobody is hating someone for this or actively bullying someone for this. We have a very strict anti-bullying policy as well, so we have managed to create a safe space for everybody.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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India’s Jharkhand state to create welfare board for LGBTQ+ community

Top official unveiled plans on Jan. 16

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Map of India's Jharkand state (Image by Bigstock)

RANCHI, India — India’s mineral-rich Jharkhand state is ready to set up a welfare board for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Kripanand Jha, secretary of the state’s Women, Child Development and Social Security Department, on Jan. 16 told local reporters that work has begun to create the welfare board for the LGBTQ+ community in Jharkhand. 

State government officials says the board will exclusively work toward the welfare of the community. Jha said the board will soon be set up and activated under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary at the state level.

“At district level, respective deputy commissioners will head the board,” he said. “A delegation of LGBTQ (people) in the past met us with this demand to work on issues concerning their welfare in a focused manner. Government has decided to work in that direction.”

Unlike other states in India that include Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Tripura and Mizoram, Jharkhand does not have a Transgender-specific welfare board. The unavailability of Trans welfare boards in the state has created serious problems for Trans people who lack access to social security, education, housing, employment, health care and skills training programs.

Jharkhand’s government, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the party that Chief Minister Hemant Soren chairs, is in a coalition with the Indian National Congress, the national party that opposed marriage equality in the Supreme Court.

Jharkhand has been the land of tribals, forests and minerals for centuries, yet the state is facing development issues. 

In some indigenous tribes of the state, such as the Ho tribe, homosexuality has been acceptable for years. 

Homosexual men are called “Kothi Panthis,” and there is no stigma attached to it. A 2001 report notes the Ho tribe’s population is approximately 700,000 and it is the fourth most numerous tribe in the state, but Jharkhand still has no welfare board to implement policies for the LGBTQ+ community. 

The state’s LGBTQ+ community has “Other Backward Caste II” or OBC II status. 

The Indian government uses OBC as the collective term to classify castes that are educationally and socially excluded from society and offers policies — quotas in government jobs and education — to bolster their position in society. Jha told the local media that Soren’s government is preparing an integrated plan from which the community will benefit.

“If the government is trying to set up an LGBTQ welfare board, I think is fantastic,” said Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ+ activist and founder of People for Change, one of the premier organizations in Jharkhand. “It is a fabulous step if the government is serious about considering the community. In terms of understanding the problems of the community and looking beyond the understanding of Transgender people.” 

“Till now, the entire understanding of the community was limited to ‘T,’ the Transgender people, and there was not much idea about what others stood for, even under the trans community, there was not much idea about intersectionality and how they impact,” added Saha. “So, if the government has said that it is a positive step and it is a welcoming step.”

While congratulating the Jharkhand government, Saha suggested the government should have consulted LGBTQ+ organizations in the decision-making process because they better understand the community’s situation. 

Saha told the Blade that if the government is working with the LGBTQ+ community, the upcoming board should work on issues that include awareness and education about the community in all government departments, schools, police, legal departments.

“They are not aware of the community as of now,” said Saha. “For them the entire understanding stops at Transgender people because of the Transgender Protection Act, there is no separate act for LGBTQ people.” 

“The first investment the government should make is to make people aware of the entire spectrum of the community,” added Saha. “The challenges that the LGBTQ community faces in Jharkhand are multifold.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Bollywood movie highlights plight of Transgender Indians

‘Safed’ premiered last month

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"Safed" movie poster (Photo courtesy of Meerra Chopra's X page)

MUMBAI — Transgender Indians are one of the country’s marginalized communities that often face abuses, ridicule and a denial of basic human rights. Although the Hindi film industry, often known as Bollywood, releases more than 1,000 movies every year, it has not made many movies to depict the pain of the Trans community, which is generally considered taboo in the country. 

“Safed” — a Bollywood movie that means “white” in Hindi — last month created a buzz in India and around the world. The movie featured Trans people and a widow, both of whom are ostracized in the country. 

The film’s story depicts a lonely, abandoned Trans person and a widow who finds solace in each other. Indian Bollywood actresses Meera Chopra and Abhay Verma starred in the film and successfully depicted the discriminatory behavior in society against Trans people and widows.

“Everyone wants to make a film that appeases masses, shows everything in a positive way with a happy ending, but making films like ‘Safed,’ which portrays the dark side of the society, is courageous,” said Barkha Bisht, the Indian actress who played the part of Radha, a Trans person in the film. “People are saying that we have done this movie for the love of the people, but I do not agree with that, we did it for a reality check to people. In our society, we have a section of people, that often face ostracization. People do not even want to look at them. More than love, we need empathy from people.”

While talking to the Indian media during the promotion of the film, Verma said this film talks about equality for all in society. Verma played opposite Chopra, her Trans co-star who played the part of a widow.

“It’s all about creating a balance in the society. We have tried our best with pure intentions, and our work should be taken purely by the moviegoers,” said Verma. “Our goal is to portray the reality of the society and if that conveys successfully, I would consider my work done.”

Even though “Safed” is not the first film that depicts the misery of Trans Indian people, often in earlier times, the Indian film Industry has shown Trans people in funny roles, in criminal roles or horror movies, which further leads to more discrimination. 

In 1999, a Hindi film, “Sangharsh,” performed well on the silver screen in India and around the world.

The film successfully portrayed a Trans character in a negative role that led to further isolation of the community in India. Many critics believed “Sangharsh” added a third gender character on the big screen, but the role of Ashutosh Rana as a Trans villain was so horrific that many critics believed the portrayal of a sadistic serial killer left a lasting impact on society at large. 

In 2011, the film “Murder 2” also brought a similar storyline and invoked transphobic characteristics of the film. 

Emraan Hashmi, one of India’s A-listed actors, played the role of an ex-police officer who chases a sadistic Trans woman who murdered sex workers. The film performed well at the box office and led to further demeaning of the Trans community.

Bollywood movies also portray trans people as laughing stocks in many films. 

In films such as “Kya Kool Hain Hum,” “Masti” and “Partner,” Trans characters were in comical setups that often invoked stereotypes in society. Indian films have played a very important role in society since the advent of the big screen in the country, often impacting society, be it romance, crime or culture.

India’s one of the most prominent actresses, Miss India and Miss Universe runner-up Celina Jaitly, while talking to the Washington Blade said combating discrimination of any kind requires a change not just in laws and policies but in hearts and minds too. Changing attitudes is never easy, she said, but it has happened on other issues, and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one.

“It begins with often difficult conversations,” said Jaitly. “One of the best ways to have these difficult conversations is also via films. Indian cinema has played an important role in conditioning the mindsets of Indians of all backgrounds as films have a reach towards all genres of society, hence films based on taboo topics are of utmost importance.” 

“Movies like ‘Safed,’ ‘Super Deluxe,’ ‘Chitrangdha: The crowning wish’ or my own film ‘Seasons Greetings:  A Tribute to Rituparno Ghosh,’ play a very important role in tapping into the subconscious even though the majority of people may watch them just for entertainment,” she added.

Jaitly also played an important role as the United Nations Equality Champion for the Trans community in India and around the world. 

While talking to the Blade, she said cinema is like literature it is the reflection of society and not only does it influence society, but has a great impact on successive generations.

“The problem faced by LGBT films are not the films themselves but the general mindset towards the LGBT community,” said Jaitly. “Most Indian audiences remain hugely conservative; the biggest block is that the society is not ready to educate themselves about homosexuality and its acceptance on any level. Reasons could be anything from religious to sheer ignorance.” 

“Despite decriminalization of homosexuality the stigma remains strong as ever and it is definitely not easy to dispel common misconceptions and negative stereotypes,” she added. “In addition, filmmaking in India is more about ‘return of investment,’ business and Rs 200 crore benchmarks as a result LGBT films end up becoming small, parallel initiatives.”

Celina Jaitly (Photo courtesy of Celina Jaitly)

Jaitly said India needs more movies like “Safed.” She said cinema can be used as a tool to proactively combat harmful messages, educate, audiences about pressing social issues and encourage critical thinking.

Jaitly advised the Indian film industry and film makers to stop creating Trans characters and storylines without meaningful Trans inputs. 

“Filmmakers who are interested in making films on the Trans community they need to focus on the project so that audiences don’t just casually react to their films, but also engage with them on a deep, emotional level,” she said. “It is also important to cast Trans people in Trans roles: Only they should portray and become the beacons of reflections of the agonies and ecstasies of their journeys, no matter what the script demands.” 

Jaitly added filmmakers hold supreme responsibility in being sensitive, empathetic and rational while attempting to make films on Trans issues. 

“The underlying principles of treating people respectfully and equally is a no-brainer and requires no special education,” she said. “Cinema like literature is the reflection of society and not only does it influence society but has a great impact on successive generations.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Trans people seek government job consideration in India’s Maharashtra state

Court petition filed on Nov. 29

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ancient texts in India have recorded the history and cultural importance of Transgender people, but the community is still marginalized and vulnerable in the country. Although the government offers many vulnerable castes a specific number of slots for education and government jobs, Trans people still have no such benefit and continue to face discrimination across the nation. 

Three Trans people from Maharashtra state on Nov. 29 filed an application to the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal seeking slots for Trans people in government jobs and a “third gender” option in online job applications. Two applicants had applied for police officer posts, while the other had applied for a revenue officer post — both of which are government jobs in India.

While hearing the application, the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, a court that has all the powers of the High Court, said it cannot direct the state government to give slots for Trans people in public employment and education. The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal did say, however, that the state government should take more steps towards inclusivity for the community in mainstream society.

Maharashtra’s government told the tribunal it would not be possible to provide slots to Trans people in government jobs or education. 

The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal in a 26-page order directed the state government to give applicants the necessary points to qualify for the job if the applicant has secured 50 percent of the total marks for the concerned post. The tribunal also directed the government to provide age relaxation to Trans applicants if they earned 45 points.

In India, every government job seeker goes through an examination to qualify for the job. Government job examinations are one of the toughest in India because there are millions of applications for a few positions, resulting in the need to secure higher marks to get a position.

More than one million applicants applied for 18,331 police officer positions in 2022. The government, however, provides slots to backward class applicants and gives points relaxation in examinations. Trans people in India are most marginalized and vulnerable with no slots in education or employment.

Retired Justice Mridula Bhatkar, who chairs the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal and member Medha Gadgil in the ruling said the fact that not a single Trans person who has come out received a job in the government sector speaks volumes.

“The Transgender people are humans and are citizens of our great country who are waiting for their inclusion in the mainstream,” said the tribunal. “We have historical, mythological and cultural instances of eunuchs and their participation in political, social or cultural fields.”

The tribunal also said trans people are in the minority. 

Although the majority forms the government, the majority cannot suppress the rights of marginalized sections of society. The tribunal further added the situation in which the Trans community finds itself is worse than what women faced in the past while demanding equality.

The tribunal highlighted the mere acknowledgment of the separate identity of Trans people was not enough, but they also need to be given opportunities in government jobs.

“The State of Maharashtra has been very progressive in its thought and culture,” said the tribunal. “Therefore, it is desirable on the part of the government to take necessary measures to enable these Transgender applicants to get jobs in the government sector.”

The tribunal mentioned Indian Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination based on sex under articles 15 and 16.

“To get into public employment is a handicapped race for Transgenders,” said the tribunal. “Though they are not physically disabled and are able-bodied persons, their activities, actions, growth are paralyzed due to the negative approach of society, family in all schools, colleges in all places at all levels.”

While representing the petitioners, Kranti LC, a lawyer, said that the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar have provided reservations to Trans people. The tribunal, however, noted it understands the state has reached the limit of vertical slot of 62 percent, but ordered the law can reach equality and harmony through social engineering.

“The courts are for justice and cannot ignore any societal problem when placed before it,” said the tribunal. “Under such circumstances, though courts are not the lawmakers while interpreting the law, a legally permissible solution is to be applied to meet the ends of justice.”

According to the Indian Supreme Court’s 1992 Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India ruling, nine judges upheld the 50 percent ceiling on slots and denied slots in promotion in government jobs. This means no government agencies or institutions can give slots more than 50 percent of total job openings. Maharashtra state already crossed the limit.

“It is very unfortunate, because Transgender people are one of the most vulnerable people in India, and of the most marginalized population in our country,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a Trans rights activist and founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization that works for Trans Indians. “For the horizontal reservation, we need to get the support of our government. We need to sensitize our members of Parliament. I think, all political parties do support (the) Transgender community, and do understand the plight of the community and difficulties we face.”

Kalki told the Washington Blade the community needs to work hard. She said the community needs to start campaigning for horizontal slots. She said the community needs to MPs to get the necessary support for it.

While talking to the Blade, Rani Patel, an activist and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with Trans Indians, said that it is right that the Trans community needs to have reservations in jobs and education so that they can be mainstreamed in the society.

“I have been working with the Transgender community for last 11 years in Delhi. We had worked very hard for the scraping of section 377,” said Patel. “All the equality and rights given by the Supreme Court of India is of no use until and unless they are not provided with reservation, because there is a stigma in the society against the Transgender people, the community feel rejected and detached from the society.”

Patel told the Blade that only a few Trans children are getting an education in the country. She said most of the Trans people in India need to be skilled in whichever field for which they have an interest. Patel further said that while getting skills, the government should provide slots to Trans people, otherwise giving skills will be of no use.

Patel and Aarohan were instrumental in drafting the Delhi government’s trans bill.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.

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