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Remembering The NALSA Judgement Which Ensured Equal Rights To India’s Trans Community

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April 15 marks the 6th anniversary of the NALSA judgment. It was a remarkable step in the constitutional history of India. It guaranteed rights to an extremely marginalized community. The transgender community has been isolated, stigmatized, ostracized and denied basic human rights for decades despite the operation of a Constitution and functioning of a democracy. The community had been subject to gender-based violence, harassment, abuse and rape. They have been denied access to public toilets, healthcare, education, employment. The landmark 2014 judgment put an end to a very long history of injustice to this community.

It was a far overdue action on the part of justice in the social democracy that India is called. In the following paragraphs, I summarise the judgement of National Legal Services Authority v Union of India. The way the judgement is worded is crucial. It reminds us of what Indian constitutional values of equality, liberty and justice truly stands for.

Picture Courtesy: Arnab Biswas (Kolkata Pride 2019)
Picture Courtesy: Arnab Biswas (Kolkata Pride 2019)

Transgender is described as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not conform to their biological sex. It includes members from various sections of the community, hijras, eunuchs, kothis, aravanis, jogtas, kinnars etc. They are a socio-culturally and economically marginalized community facing utmost discrimination, oppression and exploitation. Discrimination is so large and pronounced in terms of education, employment, healthcare and social exclusion in every other sphere of living. They are even denied access to public toilets, shops, restaurants, theatres etc. Gender identity is integral to a person’s dignity and freedom. Forcing individuals to undergo medical sex reassignment, surgery, sterilization, hormonal therapy for legal recognition of their gender identity is against their right to self-determination. Non-recognition of gender identity makes them vulnerable to sexual assault, harassment, rape.

Non-recognition of gender identity leads to violation of the right to life and dignity. Discrimination based on gender identity is a denial of equality and freedom. Non-recognition of rights is also a violation of international law obligations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes all human beings as free and equal in dignity and rights. The Court aimed to broaden the scope of fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution by taking into consideration international covenants and principles, namely UDHR 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR) and Yogyakarta Principles. The Constitution has a living character with its interpretation being dynamic. It inheres liberal and substantive democracy which believe in the rule of law

Constitutional issues cannot be studied in a socio-economic vacuum since socio-cultural changes are the source of values and ideals. The social philosophy of the Constitution shapes creative judicial vision and orientation.

The concepts of social, political and economic justice, equality of status and opportunity and of assuring dignity of all individuals are incorporated in the Preamble of the Constitution. The basic principle of dignity and freedom of an individual is central to the idea of democracy. The legal recognition of a ‘third’ gender is in consonance with Article 14 which ensures right to equality and Article 21 that ensures right to life and human dignity.

The Court ordered the recognition of a ‘third gender’ beyond the gender binary for the purpose of safeguarding their rights enshrined in the Constitution. The right of self-determining their gender was upheld, even without mandatory medical transition. The Court directed the government to assist the socially and educationally backward community in education and employment. The Centre and State Governments should study and understand the deep and pervasive discrimination that prevails and take appropriate steps to address it. The government should ensure access to healthcare, public toilets for transgenders and devise social welfare schemes for them.

India is a country that follows the rule of law and thus Constitution confers basic rights to all citizens including equality before law and equal protection by law. Rule of law is social justice based on public order. The legal recognition of the third gender is essential not only for upholding rule of law but also to advance justice to this social class who had been denied basic human rights for decades.

Here’s remembering the struggles and hardships of all transgender persons, their sufferings, the lives that we have lost due to inaccessibility of justice. Here’s hoping for a better and brighter future for the community and a more free and equal society.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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