By Anveshi Gupta and Subham Mohapatra
01/ Gender Identity
Gender is an identity gained through repeated bodily acts. Therefore, gender is performative, and not a fixed identity.
—Judith Butler, Gender Theorist
Gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth. When the processes of genital development and brain sexual development do not match the same sex, females with a male brain and vice versa can arise (Worrell 2010).
The trans community has arguably become the most marginalised and disempowered group in Indian society. They face familial (and social) rejection, harassment, discrimination, and deprivation every day. A lot of trans people are forced out of schools, have no employment opportunities, and eventually leave their families. We will soon be doing a deep dive into these issues in other articles.
This article attempts to discuss the rights that need to be made available to trans people for their dignity and security.
02/ Census 2011
Census 2011 counted 4.9 lakh Transgender persons in India. The highest proportion of the ‘third gender’ population, about 28%, was identified in Uttar Pradesh, followed by 9% in Andhra Pradesh, and 8% each in Maharashtra and Bihar. Over 66% of the population identified as ‘third gender’ lived in rural areas. Only 46% of the trans population, as compared to 76% of the general population, is literate. The proportion of those working in the trans community is much lower (38%) compared to 46% in the general population. Jyotsana, a trans person living in Delhi’s Wazirpur area, spends her days at traffic signals and going to weddings and births in the neighbouring areas. While she was enrolled in a school until grade 10, she never got access to those documents because she fled from her house in Ghaziabad in 2003 due to familial abuse.
Being ‘matric-pass’ or not is not the issue. Employers look at us and refuse to hire us. Even menial jobs that most people from an economically backward background would have access to are snatched from us only because we don’t look a certain way.
Only 65% of trans people, as compared to 75% in the general population, find work for more than six months in a year. Their effeminate behaviour, trans status, real or perceived association with sex work, real or perceived HIV status, dress code, and physical appearance, among other factors, contribute to the multiple forms of discrimination they face from their families, neighbours, communities, and public and private institutions. Azaan, a trans man who works as the manager for TWEET Foundation’s shelter in South Delhi, explains that in his experience, it becomes even tougher for trans women because femininity by choice is considered more deviant by those around them. So while he is still marginalised as a trans man, the chances of him getting access to jobs and social acceptance are significantly higher compared to trans women.
In order to bring transgender folk into the mainstream, The Supreme Court verdict of April 2014, delivered by the division bench of Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan and Justice A. K. Sikri (in NALSA v. Union of India), was a milestone in the recognition of the rights of the transgender community, and in advocating both non-discrimination of any Indian citizen along the lines of gender identity as well as reservations in the employment and education sectors for this community. The verdict was succeeded by the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill in 2016, 2018 and 2019.(Kurian-Manoj, 2021).
03/ Social Exclusion et Stigmatisation
Exclusion and stigmatisation begin right at home for most LGBTQIA+ people. Trans people face emotional, physical, psychological, and financial abuse by their own families. There is enough empirical evidence of this. In fact, abuse within the family is not restricted to immediate blood relatives, it also spills over to the extended family, and often consists of ‘conversion therapy’.
This compels most trans people to flee from their homes, and their native towns/villages/cities, without their assigned name and gender identity proof documents. They then go through tedious legal processes to change into their preferred identity in different documents.
It is so common for trans children to be shunned by their families, that the protocols made by the community to ‘protect’ some children have turned into long-followed traditions now. There are international reports about how we, Hijras, have an elaborate family system but it never seems to surprise anyone that so many people face banishment from their biological families every day.
A report prepared by Sangama, a human rights organisation for individuals oppressed due to their sexual preferences, highlighted high rates of violence against transgender persons, particularly perpetrated by police personnel. More than half (52%) of the respondents said they had been harassed by the police and nearly all (96%) said they had not raised a complaint because of their gender identity.
They’re systematically excluded from participating in socio-cultural activities, politics, and decision-making processes. They face harassment, violence, and denial of care and services in employment, public accommodation, health, education etc.
While the process of getting a TG card is very exhausting in itself, my apprehension comes from having reduced access to social infrastructure once the gender mentioned on my ID cards is changed.
Va’an is a 24-year-old non-binary trans person from Mumbai. They explain that while there have been multiple factors affecting their access to ID cards, the fear of violence and discrimination remains the most pressing one.
In India, gender plays a crucial role in determining many aspects of an individual’s life, right from navigating bureaucracy to accessing opportunities. Educational institutions are not exempt from enabling discriminatory behaviour. From a very early age, trans people and their children face physical and emotional abuse by teachers, non-teaching staff, and other students. Institutions are often unaware of these issues, and by extension, the policies and welfare schemes that are in place to tackle these issues.
Most educational institutions don’t implement government-mandated reservations or processes, so even though I do have an updated Aadhaar Card, these institutions do not provide us with the option to select a gender other than ‘male’ or ‘female’ which leads to discrepancies in applications as well as degree certificates. It’s a domino effect of having my identity removed.
04/ Denied Visibility in Administrative Data
The 2011 census estimated that 4.8 million Indians identified as ‘Other’. But nearly all major official data sources in India provide sex-related data in a binary male-female format, excluding people with transgender, intersex, and other non-binary gender identities. This limits their access to social security benefits and private services in banking, healthcare etc.
As per the 2020 report of the Center for Internet & Society (CIS), India for the Big Data for Development Network, gender-disaggregated data does not reflect the reality of all gender minorities. This is probably because sex is biological whereas gender is a social construct. The Binary data collection matrix is more sex-focused than gender-focused in India.
Major national data sources on health, education, and employment that provide sex-disaggregated data do not have a separate category for the trans population.These datasets include the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which provides essential health and nutrition data; the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE), a collation of data from schools on resources and enrollment; and the Periodic Labour Force Surveys, the primary source of statistics on labour force participation and employment2.
The lack of data has disabled numerous advocacy organisations to pitch for policy change. While the ‘Other’ category in data forms, like that in the 2011 census may seem inclusive, it is exclusionary and stigmatising for the queer community. On one hand, the forms give an option of ‘male’ and ‘female’ to cisgender people, but on the other, segregate all gender identities into just one category termed as ‘Other’. It does not solve any problems or help relevant stakeholders identify the needs of the community — different people with different gender identities have different needs.
05/ Hustle for Identity Cards
As India went into lockdown due to COVID-19, through the relief package announced by the government, each trans person was entitled to receive INR 1,500 as direct transfer along with ration supplies3. Despite an estimated population of 48 lakhs, only 5,711 trans individuals received the money while only 1,229 received ration supplies. The main reason behind this situation is the lack of identity cards. Most trans people struggle to obtain identity cards with their preferred name and gender identity.
EVEN if I get a TG card without any issues, I have to fight to get it updated on my Aadhaar Card, then I have to fight to get it on other legal documents. It is as though I have to constantly fight to have an identity.
An identity card is mandatory for accessing any government welfare scheme or any essential service, including healthcare, education, banking, and housing. Their Birth Certificate is created based on the information provided by the parents; going further, the same is used as an identity proof for everything. Despite legal recognition in 2014, getting an identity card in their preferred name and gender still remains a challenge for all trans people.
For any general or function-specific purpose, validated identity documents guaranteed with legal authentication are required. Hence, it is necessary for individuals to procure these documents to access welfare programmes. Access to any comprehensive welfare entitlements of the government, by any individual citizen requires verification using some proof of identity. The discrimination and other challenges in procuring government-issued identification documents impact the ability of trans people to enroll for welfare entitlements. This, in turn, impacts their access to services.
Below is a representation of the challenges faced by trans people in accessing schemes and entitlements.
November 2020 onwards, the process of obtaining TG certificates and Identity cards has shifted online with the launch of the National Portal for Transgender Persons, and it requires individuals to log in, fill up a form, and upload an identity proof.
Even though sensitisation training has been made mandatory for the District Magistrates, the staff in the office is largely desensitised and unaware of the processes that have been recently introduced. It is the staff at the ground level that needs to be made aware of these processes. The protocol seems very smooth on paper but the reality on-ground is very different.
As per the data on National Portal for Transgender persons, to date, only 6510 certificates and 6518 identity cards have been issued against an estimated population of over 4.9 lakh trans people in India.
Additionally, over 1600 applications made for certificates and IDs are still pending, over 1000 applications have been rejected due to insufficient and invalid documentation. In some cases, trans people are denied identity cards citing minor errors and discrepancies, forcing them to re-initiate this super-delayed process all over again. In Azaan’s experience of working with multiple trans people at their shelter home, an ID card has never arrived on time or been made without multiple follow-ups.
The online process is inaccessible and increases delays because there is no way for them to probe into the matter. As a result, if the individual is obtaining a gender-specific identity card, then because of possessing two identity proofs, preferred details, and assigned details, they’re unable to apply for welfare entitlements.
06/ Skill Development and Financial Independence
Trans people are largely engaged in ‘distressed’ jobs across the country. Jobs like begging at railway platforms, traffic posts, and other local public places, or giving blessings (badhai), or MSM jobs have become their livelihood. They earn about INR 300–500 a day.
States such as Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and Gujarat are focussing on the upskilling of their trans communities. The aim is to help them gain financial independence (and dignity). Eventually, they could be selling idlis, or selling flowers and vegetables — anything that keeps them away from non-protective measured activities like MSM.
States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have set up separate programmes to support trans citizens in setting up businesses by providing them subsidy-based loans for income-generating activities like trading of garments, setting up micro-manufacturing units etc.
Another study conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2017 found that three in four transgender people in NCR, and 82% in Uttar Pradesh, were either never in school or dropped out before the 10th grade. Nearly 15% had no jobs and 69% were working in the informal sector, primarily engaged in singing, dancing, and giving ‘blessings’.
Even with equal access to job opportunities through reservations and Equal Opportunity Policies, it is nearly not enough. It is important to ensure that an actively inclusive environment is maintained at work places. Azaan explains that most trans people are deemed incapable of their jobs, or constantly discriminated against. This is why they prefer to be financially independent on their own terms by indulging in the work they do.
07/ Initiatives by the Government
The central government has launched several welfare entitlement schemes under the comprehensive umbrella of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, for the Support of Marginalised Individuals with Livelihood and Enterprise (SMILE). This includes schemes and documents of transgender certificates and ID cards, skill development training, rehabilitation homes, scholarships, and comprehensive medical health, among others.
Along with this, several states have also launched specific programmes for trans citizens. Tamil Nadu is now equipped with schemes and programmes to provide welfare services to their trans communities. The state has had a separate welfare board since 2008. Following in their footsteps are West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, who have set up their own welfare boards to develop and facilitate welfare entitlement support to their trans communities. Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Sikkim have introduced special pension schemes, education support and scholarships, housing and allied schemes, and health care schemes designed specifically for trans people.
Considering the lack of database records, states are now developing processes for creating a database of their trans communities for better inclusion in policy-making. Odisha has become the first state to comprehensively implement state and central schemes. Under the state’s umbrella programme named as ‘Sweekruti’, the state has not just helped facilitate scheme benefits and entitlements but has also initiated the development of this cohort’s database.
08/ Our Intervention
We have served trans citizens with last-mile benefits through some of our committed collaborations. With our programmes, we want to enable this cohort with financial agency and independence. We want them to actively avail the benefits they are eligible for. We want them to create their own livelihoods through alternative employment opportunities. We want them to live with dignity and respect.
If you have similar goals, let’s talk — firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Currently, the applications for scholarships and skill development programmes are open for trans citizens. Applications can be facilitated through the National Portal for Transgender persons.