On Thursday, Kerala made history by becoming the first Indian state to introduce a policy to address the social stigma and discrimination that transgender people face. The document, officially titled ‘State Policy for Transgenders in Kerala 2015’ was unveiled in the presence of influential transgender activist Akkai Padmashali during the inaugural ceremony of the first International Conference on Gender Equality. In a country where a supreme court ruling of 2013 made homosexuality illegal, this truly an important step in the fight for LGBT rights.
The policy applies to not just transgender or transsexual people but also includes intersex people in its ambit, and offers them equal access to social and economic opportunities and resources, and prohibits any kind of violence or discrimination against them. In fact, it also suggests the creation of a Transgender Justice Board to look into the implementation of this policy, and to ensure that the rights promised are actually administered to the transgender community.
This is definitely a huge step forward for a country that is still largely transphobic and demonizes transgender people and hijras as sexual predators or criminals, and the LGBT community at large has come forward in full support of it. However, some in the community have also been wary of the policy, because it never explicitly states how it will succeed in giving trans people these benefits and opportunities.
Noted transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam, who founded ‘Sahodari’, a trans-empowering NGO, voiced her disappointment in how the State failed to consult the transgender community during the framing of the policy. She said: “I think an overall state consultation is definitely required when we are going to implement the policy… Kerala’s TG policy does not have any sections or points on how it is going to bring the community in the mainstream, with the public. So that is my biggest concern… and also the safety of gender non-confirming children and ensuring that the trans community is not dropping out of school are some of the things that the policy has not included”.
Even Akkai Padamshali believes, that while this policy is an important one, the government still has a lot more to do in properly ensuring that the trans community gets equal rights. Their scepticism is justified, considering the fact that Section 377—the damaging law which criminalizes homosexuality in India—is still in place and being enforced. In such a largely homophobic and transphobic climate, ensuring support and equal opportunities for the transgender community needs a much fiercer and urgent advocacy. Earlier this year, another Indian state, Tripura had announced a monthly allowance for transgender patients, which, again, while being a good start, was still not an adequate enough measure to address trans issues.Before one seeks to properly end discrimination, one should first overturn the draconian laws that are still in place which look at homosexuality and gender nonconformity as “unnatural”, and the LGBT community as “deviants”.
That said, this is still a reason to celebrate—the fact that the State is at least tying to address the concerns of the trans communities and actively trying to give them the rights they deserve. While international bodies like TLPI (Transgender Law and Policy Institute) have often helped push legislation regarding transgender rights, for India this is definitely an important first step. In the words of the official document, it envisions a “just society, where men, women and TGs [transgender people] have equal rights to access development opportunities, resources and benefits; the right to live with dignity and enjoy a life free of violence; right to freedom of expression and right to equal voice and participation in key development decisions that shape their lives, communities and the State”. Though the policy still sees gender as a binary, and transgender as the “third gender” (a term that many in the trans community are uncomfortable with), it still humanizes them, and seeks to give them the respect they deserve.