From a life where they were denigrated for showcasing their individuality to becoming the first Asia Pacific ambassador at the UN, such has been the journey of Transgender icon and activist, Laxmi Narayan Pandit. The story of Pandit is one to remember, not only because it displays a sense of hope and triumph at times of despair but gives a true picture of what it is to live as a trans person in our country.
To shed light on some fundamentals, the term “transgender” is simply a means of identifying oneself if the individual does not fit into the conventional “binary” identity of their birth sex. In a society like ours, where people struggle with pervasive and rigid gender roles, the mere acceptance of trans people, especially trans women, becomes a point of concern.
“A lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life”
These words by Laverne Cox, who herself is a Trans woman and an LGBTQ+ activist, perfectly explains how unjust social stigmas can seem like shackles for dignified citizens. For the transgender community though, the battle has not just been for establishing an identity in a sceptical society but also getting justice for years of relentless disparagement. For the longest time, the community was living at the periphery of society, neither having a place in the formal workforce nor the Indian constitution. The prevalent view of the majority population deeming them as "different" was the sole reason behind their exclusion from making social contributions. The same community which was once worshipped with the title of "Demigods" and can now be seen claiming their justice through vulnerable jobs like offering blessings in exchange for money and sex work.
On paper, the status of the transgender community has surely improved. For instance, the monumental NALSA judgement in the supreme court officially recognized the 4.9 Lakh strong transgender community under the principles laid down in Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Indian constitution. Trans people in India were given the title of “third gender” by the apex court, which would be conceptualized without the consideration of biological characteristics. This not only gives the transgender community legal identity but also does away with the binary concepts of male and female.
Although the apex court entitles the community to reservations and social welfare schemes, there are serious limitations in the implementation of multiple spheres. For instance, neither of the two marriage acts in the constitution has included the transgender community as its stakeholders. The ingrained biases of the community’s lower social status have been ratified with unfair laws like crimes against the community having less severe punishment than crimes against cisgender citizens. The lack of sufficient reservation in education and government jobs is also prevalent, besides the supreme court mandate. On top of this, there is no recognition of trans women under the jurisdiction of the National Commission for Women or the National Commission for Minorities, which is possibly the highest degree of ostracism the community would have faced. Not to mention, the basic necessities of healthcare and education evade the community at large, making it especially troublesome to tackle the misery of the pandemic.
In bits and pieces, the trans women of our country can be seen securing a speck of dignity and justice through formal employment opportunities but the number is too few to be even considered as a "victory". The prevalence of unemployment in cisgender women has been a persistent social issue, hence, it only makes things worse for trans women. A lack of transgender-inclusive workplaces and a queer-affirmative work culture is what feeds the flame of transgender unemployment, but the sparks that set it ablaze is the lack of education and acceptance at the family level.
Due to improper disposal methods, an enormous amount of sanitary waste ends up being thrown in the landfills, contaminating soil and aquifers below the ground or blocking the drainage channels. Burning this waste at inadequate temperature further complicates the problem by releasing carcinogenic toxins like furans and dioxins in the atmosphere. The ashes of incinerated waste further contaminate the soil and water.
Having access to work and learning professional skills should not be a far-fetched "demand", but a convenient provision.
TA 2017 survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has identified that 82% of transgender identifying people have been devoid of elementary-level education. Nearly 70% are engaged in informal work, including things like singing, dancing and sex work. 50% of the trans people reported their monthly earnings as less than Rs 10,000.
If not for the monetary reinforcement, being employed entails a sense of self-reliance and a great deal of dignity, something which has been a struggle to acquire for trans women throughout the country. Numerous private organizations and NGOs have done their part to aid this struggle and provide stable employment and vocational skills through social welfare projects, much like Enactus JMI's Project Shrimati. Do these interventions make an impact? Certainly. But their limited target capacity is a call for greater action from the legal and administrative end.
Major policy changes that ensure proper government identification, basic survival necessities and ample opportunities for education and upskilling need to be made. Hence, if not as "demigods", the least we can do is see the trans community as a dignified community of humans.