ByÂ Joy Mitra:
The Karnataka government recently announced a pension scheme ‘Mythri’ for the transgender community under which transgender people from the age group 18 to 64 are entitled to a monthly pension of Rs 500. Transgender people with annual income less than Rs 12000 per annum in rural areas and less than Rs 17000 in urban areas are eligible for the scheme. They will be required to submit relevant documents including a certificate from the Department of Health and Family welfare to prove their gender.
Activists have slammed the government for the lack of clarity on the issue and use of the word ‘Mangalamukhi’ being used for the scheme to which one of the transgender activist responded by saying that it is a very sexist and brahminical word . There is also a need to conduct a new census to revise the numbers of the transgender population in the society and identify the beneficiaries. The community itself however remains confused on how to react to the announcement of the scheme, whether to celebrate the fact that they are entitled to a pension giving them a status on par with other sections of the society or to rue the token amount that is too meagre to accrue any kind of real benefits for them.
Transgender people, colloquially known as ‘hijras’ or ‘khusras’, have been a long standing part of the south Asian society . Yet the term ‘hijra’ is one that has long been used pejoratively and it is demeaning to call someone a ‘hijra’. The plight of the transgender people is such that they are marginalised even within the marginalised and minorities even within the minorities. It therefore does not come as a surprise that on entering the search term ‘transgender’ or ‘sexual minorities’ on the website of the Ministry of Minority Affairs of the government of India reveals no results.
Of-late a slew of progressive judgements by the courts in India have tried to elevate the status of the transgender people in India. While they were legally given voting rights as third sex in 1994, in 2003 a transgender applicant was able to sit for the Tamil Nadu civil services after court order allowed. In fact recently Karnataka high court took a transgender on its pay roll for a job in the ‘D’ category. It is intriguing to note here that while there have been progressive decisions taken by some state governments in south India, at the national level there has been a total lacuna in the policy making circles on the issue of transgender. One wonders if there has ever been a debate in the parliament about the sexual minorities. It is important to understand the political dimension of it to understand why political and social justice evades this socially ostracised community. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in general and transgender in particular do not form a sizeable, large or noticeable vote bank for political enterprises to exploit and therefore the political discourse very conveniently obscures them.This does not happen the other way round though, when political parties oppose rights being conferred on the sexual minorities or in support of the retrograde and regressive judgement like upholding ‘section 377’ they look to pander to the Hindu, Muslim or Christian clerics who are the contractors of the collective will of their community and unfortunately this tactic does succeed in getting votes.
In a socially conservative country like India where women themselves have to fight for their rights, transgender community only face a much more daunting, tedious and uphill battle. The fight for access to education and health, legal recognition, increased awareness, access to social welfare schemes and end to harassment requires social mobilisation of the transgender community. Gandhi and Ambedkar mobilised the downtrodden and those at the receiving end of the caste violence for social, political and economic justice and legal empowerment. Had they been alive today would they have fought and led the battle for the new ‘Harijans’ of our times? Most certainly yes, but will any of the prime ministerial candidates take up their cause? Or will they even try to articulate an incisive view so we at least know where they stand vis-Ã -vis the issue of the new ‘Harijans’? Perhaps not.