“I get very upset when people make comments or trouble people like me. Aren't we humans too? So what if we are neither male nor female, what is the problem with being different. It's no reason to behave this way,” says Ashwini, a transgender based in Mumbai.
This statement, a few weeks back wouldn't have sparked up a furore, however the recent turning of tables has made it easy for the transgender community to be accepted into the society now. After what seems like a century of struggle, the Supreme Court legalised the third sex on Tuesday morning.
Gender, today, is more social than physical. The idea of a 'masculine' man and a 'feminine' female are all a result of many years of social changes. In a world where these gender roles are categorically specified, a misalignment or merely a difference from the norm, may seem appalling. There is always a fear of anything 'abnormal' and this same fear is what has led to us discriminating. Ancient societies including Israel have recognised close to 6 different sexes. However modern societies refrain from doing so.
Hindu traditional epics are replete with references of the third sex. Arjuna, in Mahabharata, decides to live the life of a eunuch, while on exile. Shikandi, another mythological character is born a female, but raised as a male. When he gets married, his wife discovers his feminine side and flees. Shikandi ventures into the forest and finds a nature spirit (Yaksha). He swaps sexes with the spirit and returns to the kingdom a man.
LGBT community's crusade with India isn't new. The premium center to protect people with different sexual preferences and physicality, has fought for equal rights all over the world. Section 377 of the Indian constitution which criminalises same-sex intercourse was repealed in 2009 by the Delhi High Court. However in an unfortunate turn of events, the Supreme Court in December 2013, upheld the primacy of the section, deeming it illegal to engage in same-sex intercourse. After a long struggle, the Tamil Nadu state government recognised the Hijra community as an essential part of the society and established the Transgender Welfare Board in 2008. Later that year, an order was passed, which officially admitted them into formal educational institutions in the state.
In 2012, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a prominent transgender activist, dancer and actor from Mumbai, filed a petition demanding equal rights for the other sex. Close to two years later, on Tuesday morning, a two judge bench in the Supreme Court of India passed the law, thus legally recognising them as a part of the society, granting them equal education, healthcare and employment rights and opportunity.
The Center and States were also directed to take steps for bringing the community into the mainstream by providing adequate healthcare, education and employment. A bench of Justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri directed the government to take steps for granting recognition to transgenders as a separate third category of gender after male and female. The bench clarified that its verdict pertains only to eunuchs and not other sections of society like gay, lesbian and bisexuals who are also considered under the umbrella term 'transgender'. The apex court passed the order on a PIL filed by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) urging the court to give separate identity to transgenders by recognising them as third category of gender.
Welcoming the Supreme Court decision, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender rights activist said, "The progress of the country is dependent upon human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgment as the Supreme court has given us those rights."
However there are mixed emotions that seep through many at this moment. "We yet have a long way to go. Educational and legal rights have been granted, but what about the rest? So many of us yet don't have valid residential proofs," said Gauri Sawant, a transgender. Born Ganesh, Gauri had a lone battle. The transition wasn't easy, but she hopes it isn't the same for her brethren. "It must be legal all over the world, only then will it truly be equal justice. It sure is a big day for us, but I fear that other sexual minorities will try to take advantage of this. The Supreme Court has classified us as a minority group, however ask the other minority sections of society if they will accept us."
Even though prominently featured in Indian mythologies, eunuchs and transgenders haven't received, if not more, the same attention and respect as the two prominent sexes. Either fear or disgust has always kept people away from them. Forced to use common public toilets, no scope of education, no separate gender section in government forms are probably just a leaf in their books of problems. Social stigma and judgments are something they need to face each day. However the SC seems to have empathised this time. After years of struggling to earn their rights and live a 'normal' life, the transgender community can now finally breathe in peace, albeit in fear and anticipation of yet another tide of change.
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