A decade ago, she approached HC for voter ID card for them

The Supreme Court’s recent decision recognising the right of transgenders to individually decide if they want to be identified as a male, female or a ‘third gender’ has made a few lawyers practising in the Madras High Court Bench here turn nostalgic about a legal battle waged by a woman advocate from Madurai exactly a decade ago seeking voter’s identity card for the transgenders.

Advocate G.R. Swaminathan recalled that it was in March 2004, four months before the inauguration of the High Court Bench here on July 24 that year, the Madurai based advocate A. Rajini of Southern Districts Women Federation filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Principal Seat of the High Court in Chennai demanding voter identity cards for the transgenders in the State.

“Then, I was her counsel and the case was heard by the First Bench headed by then Chief Justice B. Subhashan Reddy,” he recounted. The case of the petitioner was that the transgenders were granted voting rights way back in 1994 when T.N. Seshan was the Chief Election Commissioner.

They were also given the option of identifying themselves as either male or female.

However, the government officials entrusted with the job of issuing the identity cards created hurdles by questioning the choice of gender made by the applicants. Filing an affidavit, in support of her PIL petition, the advocate also pointed out that sexual minorities in the State were unable to open bank accounts and obtain ration cards due to lack of clarity over their gender.

Responding to the case, the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government informed the court that only 11 out of 1.4 lakh transgenders in the State had come forward to register their names in the electoral rolls. After recording the submission, the court directed the government to publicise, through the media, the transgenders’ right to get enrolled as voters.

Two years later, a Government Order was passed in December 2006 with recommendations to improve living conditions of the transgenders.

The G.O. favoured counseling as a means to deter families from disowning transgenders and making sure that such children get admitted in schools and colleges. Thereafter, in September 2008, the State constituted a Welfare Board for transgenders.

Finally, now the Supreme Court has passed a landmark judgement in favour of transgenders. “I would only say that this is the culmination of the spark that got ignited in 2004,” Mr. Swaminathan pointed out.

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