In a census exercise carried out in West Bengal in 2011, the number of transgenders was shown as 250; a number that activists working with the community claim is far lesser than the real figure. And the reason for their under-representation, they say is the flawed information-gathering process that does not count the ‘other gender’ unless specifically cited.

Anomalies such as this are among the problems being faced by transgenders that will now be addressed by the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry that has set up a task force to assist with drafting a policy for the welfare of the community.

The task force will address concerns from how to identify and get the actual numbers to finding solutions to everyday problems of healthcare, education and social discrimination.

“The Ministry had a consultation with activists and members from the transgender community and received a feedback on the problems that they face. For instance, in the census figures they are identified either as male or female, and because the enumerators judge the person by way of their clothes, they do not even ask the gender of the person. Similarly, passport application forms do not have a column for the other gender; the task force will come out with recommendations to address these concerns and help in shaping a policy for the community,” said a senior official of the Ministry.

With a three-month deadline to deliver, the task force headed by an additional secretary in the Ministry has onboard representatives from the Ministries of Health and Family Welfare, Home, External Affairs, and Rural Development.

“There is an urgent need to first map the other gender in every State, and then work out a plan for their legal aid, social security, health and education. There are no basic services provided to transgenders in government hospitals, because of social stigma and discrimination they are either out of school or have high drop-out rate and there is an incorrect perception about them being criminals,” said activist Amitava Sarkar who works with the community.

The activists also sought simplifying the process of changing their gender on documents like passports.

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