Take What You Get, Don’t Ask Questions: Kerala’s ‘Progressive’ Transgender Policy

Posted by Vihaan Peethambar in Cake, LGBTQ
April 12, 2018

As most of you may know, the Kerala government took a landmark step when they came up with State Transgender Policy in 2015. But, just how much of the policy has the state really understood and implemented?

As someone who served actively in the District Transgender Justice Board of Ernakulam for a year, I would like to convey my sheer disappointment at how both the Kerala government and the Social Justice Department still do not show a basic understanding of the policy they are supposed to implement. They continue to push trans people to go along with their whims and fancies. If you question/don’t cooperate, things will move even slower. A good example of this kind of ignorance and bullying is evident in the Transgender ID cards, which was reportedly going to be produced and distributed by March 31 this year.

The issuance of Transgender ID cards has been constituted so that trans people (people who self-identify as male/female/transgender regardless of whether they have undergone surgery or hormone treatment) can avail the schemes/benefits provided in the government-allotted budget of ₹10 crore set aside for them. This card is supposed to be issued by the Kerala government, obviously.

The TG card was hastily put together last year, which came under a lot of flak, and rightly so, for the below reasons:

1. The card did not have an emblem of the Kerala government. It carried the logo of the Social Justice Department. Such a card will not be accepted as an ID card by any other private/public body in India which disappointed the community as most of them do not have any other legal identification document.

2. The card carried a logo typically used to depict intersex rights (we don’t know where this idea came from).

3. There was no option for a person to choose the gender they self-identify with (male/female/transgender). Transgender was the only option. NOT EVERYONE IDENTIFIES AS TRANSGENDER FOR GOD’S SAKE! READ THE POLICY!

4. There was a column ‘Sex’ against which ‘Transgender’ was provided (Yes, in the most literate state of the country, we still think ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are the same).

Who designed this card? Who did the Social Justice Department consult? There are plenty of community-based organisations, trans activists and scholars who could have advised them in a jiffy. But nope, the Social Justice Department sleeps for the longest time and gets up suddenly, remembers there’s a budget to be used, has some lousy discussion – and then blackmails the poor trans community saying we did so much, if you do not take this now, then we cannot tell when things can be provided next.

Needless to say, the exploited lot that trans people are, they look at whatever’s provided by the government as a silver lining and do not challenge the details. This was August 2017, when all the recommendations for the revision of the TG ID card were given by members of the community and members of the TG Justice Board.

Fast forward to February 2018, when the Social Justice Department has woken up again saying that the fiscal year is coming to an end in March, and they need to do something with the budget which will otherwise lapse. So, they revived the TG ID cards and constituted a screening committee which included a psychologist, psychiatrist, District Medical Officer and three TG community representatives who would review the applications from trans people, ask questions and decide whether the applicant would get the TG ID card.

How much has the card changed?

1. There is still no emblem of the Kerala government, just the Social Justice Department’s logo.

2. The Intersex rights logo has been removed.

3. The column for ‘Sex’ has been replaced with ‘Gender’.

4. No option to self-identify. Only ‘Transgender’ as the mandatory option for gender.

Now, just FYI, I personally know 20+ trans guys from Kerala, most of whom are below the poverty line and need the government benefits badly. And I know none of them will apply for this card JUST because it does not give them the right to choose their gender as male. As of now, only two trans men have applied for the card under the misconception that their gender will be changed from ‘Transgender’ to ‘Male’ after some time. I was told that the government made this process so that cis-gendered people would not apply for the card as male/female and avail benefits. What a bizarre logic! The TG card has been designed for ‘trans people’. Anyone who carries this card is obviously going to be identified as transgender or transsexual (someone who has undergone a transitional experience) by the state. This is validated by the screening process where you show required documentation. How difficult is this to comprehend and monitor?

My poor trans brothers and sisters have been bullied by the Social Justice Department to think that this is a favour being done for them – and if they do not take it now, it will be their loss as the budget will lapse for the year. This is the Kerala government. Take what you get and don’t ask questions seems to be the motto of the Social Justice Department.

People need to understand that no one is doing the trans community a favour. It is their job, and they have been allotted a bloody big budget of ₹10 crores for trans welfare every year. It is the duty of the Social Justice Department to understand the policy and operate; if they do not know, they can consult with professionals/scholars/activists who can guide and educate them to think beyond their patriarchal mindsets. They can also hire more people from the trans community or at least give travel or some monthly allowance to the State Transgender Justice Board members to enable them to contribute more time for trans welfare.

I cannot reiterate enough the need to have the right awareness and guidance before the state-designated government officials to implement progressive policies. The way things are going, the Kerala government seems to be doing more harm to its trans community than good.