Union cabinet minister Maneka Gandhi nervously giggling through the words “his, or her, or…th —other ones…” is symbolic of our continued neglect of India’s transgender community. It was while speaking at the Lok Sabha on the Anti-Trafficking Bill, and she fumbled once more, saying, “yeah, okay, the TGs”.
. @Manekagandhibjp We are #NotOtherOnes or your pets. We are equally human, equal citizens. APOLOGIZE to the entire transgender community NOW, for your extremely derogatory, insenstive reference and gesture. This does not behove a Cabinet Minister! Appalled, Anguished, Ashamed ! pic.twitter.com/v9uPwm8VEj
— Meera Sanghamitra (@meeracomposes) July 27, 2018
Meera Sanghamitra, a lawyer, and member of the National Alliance for People’s Movements, reacted on Twitter:
. @Manekagandhibjp Also please note ‘TGs’ is NOT the appropriate usage. Address us as ‘transgender persons’ when addressing collectively. Hope this apathy towards lives & rights of transgender persons changes, at all levels of the political and administrative line. #NotOtherOnes
— Meera Sanghamitra (@meeracomposes) July 30, 2018
Gandhi obviously needs to familiarise herself with the above information, and the hope is that, hereon, she’ll be smarter with her words. But, to put it in dry, cynical internet-speak, I’m gonna say she tried. Insert gold star with comic sans text. She didn’t know enough, but she tried. We’re faced with a tricky choice between raging over the words she used, and the fact that, at the very least, she remembered to go beyond the binary. But the “very least” doesn’t cut it. And outraged Twitter users know it:
the worst part. The video shows MPs in the background laughing and smiling at this distasteful comment.
— Tabish Nawaz (@tabishnawaz) July 28, 2018
Some even tried to pit Gandhi’s animal rights activism against the trans rights movement in India:
It’s pathetic that the amount of empathy she is showing towards the animals is not existed there for the fellow human beings in her heart. Shame on you @Manekagandhibjp
— இளங்கோ (@nameisilango) July 29, 2018
Not a very clever or sensitive strategy, but people’s annoyance and disappointment was palpable.
One time, someone snapped at me for using “unparliamentary” language, but that’s not really a standard to aspire to when parliamentarians are spewing nonsense like this. Whether it was Sushma Swaraj pronouncing Jyoti Singh Pandey (and all survivors of extreme sexual violence) as “zinda laash” or Ramesh Bhaduri’s sexist and abusive comments to women MPs, a lot of what is uttered in the assemblies is shameful.
As a member of parliament, you represent the people. The people also include transgender Indians. The people also include lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual and asexual Indians. And when you speak about, for, or to the people. Gandhi later apologised, saying “I was not aware of the official terminology for the transgender community.” Again, it’s the “very least” she could’ve done. But, like Swaraj or Bhaduri, she’s done this before. Last January, she said that people living with mental illness have no place in the workforce, only adding to the stigma and ignorance around mental health. She also said marital rape doesn’t apply to the Indian content (because, like, Indian wives owe husbands sex) and drew severe criticism from various corners.
So, to Maneka Gandhi, and all the other ministers, maybe you should have a look at our handy guide on how to write and talk about LGBTQ Indians. You can find it here.