When Shabnum Mausi, a eunuch, contested and won assembly elections in 1998 from Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh, she had to list herself as an 'F' (female) in the electoral rolls, with the only other option in the gender column being 'M' (male).
Not any more. The Election Commission (EC) has decided to allow eunuchs and transsexuals to indicate their sex as 'O', or others, in the voter lists if they do not want to be described as 'M' or 'F'. The recognition comes 15 years after the third sex was granted the right to vote — in 1994.
In India, the Tamil Nadu government took the lead in March 2008 to officially recognise the third sex when the state civil supplies department added the option 'T" (third sex) in ration cards.
According to an official statement by the election commission, the decision to recognise the "other sex" was taken after "receiving representations from various individuals and interest groups, including some students from the law faculty of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar".
The demand from the students came when the chief election commissioner was addressing them about the inclusion of eunuchs in the electoral rolls "with an independent identity", the statement said.
Besides the electoral rolls, the option to indicate the third sex as 'O' will also be available in other documents of the commission, including IT-based formats and website, the statement said.
"Enumerators and booth-level officers shall be instructed to indicate the sex of eunuchs/transsexuals, etc as 'O' if they so desire, while undertaking any house-to-house enumeration or verification of any application," said an official.
Sexual minorities rights activists have welcomed the decision. Prominent activist Ashok Row Ravi said, "Though passports already have this option, the election commission and political class seem to have finally accepted that there is a plurality of genders in our society. This increases plurality in society, which is ultimately good for building a tolerant society," he said.
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