Even as the Maharashtra government congratulated itself for addressing issues of the transgender population in a draft policy announced earlier this month, one of the provisions of the policy, which states people being transgender can be prevented through medical care, has angered the marginalised community. By this, the government has failed to acknowledge that being transgender is a choice of many people, the community’s empathisers say.
The draft of the third women’s policy, unveiled by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Women and Child Welfare Minister Varsha Gaikwad on Women’s Day this year, includes the transgender community. It was drafted by a panel headed by celebrity transgender Laxmi Tripathi and several members of NGOs dealing with issues of the community and a member-secretary of the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission.
The provision states that no person should be forced to live the life of a transsexual. “As a preventive measure, pregnant women should get proper medical treatment. Similarly, in the case of hormonal imbalance, the right medical assistance should be provided to them. In the case of personality disorder, those affected should be given proper help. Awareness should be spread in society about such issues and solutions thereof,” the policy, written in Marathi, states.
However, transgender people, psychiatrists and non profit organisations The Hindu spoke to said the provision of implementing preventive measures against people becoming transgender treats their identity like a disease.
The draft of the policy is available on the website of the Ministry and is open for public recommendations till June 8.
Bindu Madhav Khire, who heads Sampathik trust in Pune and works with bisexual and transgender people, said the provision chose to ignore that a person could choose to be a transsexual. “The policy looks at the issue like it is a disease or a disorder that should be got rid of or controlled. The government, instead of helping the cause, is saying society would be better off if people can be prevented from being transgender.”
Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Pune, said the policy was patronising and unjust. The scientific community did not have any answers to the question of why people were transgender. “There is proof that things do not change if so called proper care is given to pregnant women even in welfare countries. There is no scientific proof that hormonal imbalance is directly linked to transgender status. It is not a disease but a natural variation, and for some it is a lifestyle choice, which must be respected.”
Suggestions such as scholarships for education, pension schemes for the old, free housing and other attempts to empower the community financially and increasing sensitisation of the issue among the police, doctors and teachers are being welcomed. The policy also seeks awareness on sex reassignment surgery (SRS), free pre and post surgical counselling and implementing adequate changes in the law.
However, transgender people feel that unless their identity is respected and they are accepted in society without any conditions, the battle is only half won.
Satish Shinde, a transgender who prefers to be identified as Bapi, and the only person from among those The Hindu spoke to (he did not wish to remain anonymous), said financial help would only count when it came with acceptance from society. “If the policy says that being transgender can be prevented in some way or the other, then people will pity me for not being able to prevent it. We need to be seen as individuals and respected for whatever we choose to be. Monetary help can come later.”
Ms Tripathi said she had given suggestions to the government and had not read the policy entirely, as it was in Marathi. After being told of the provision for ‘preventive measures’, she said: “Beggars cannot be choosers. The government has taken the bold step of doing something for the community, and I feel we should respect that. I choose to look at the positive aspects. The government's attitude is conservative but it has to be changed over a period of time. We will make the best of every opportunity we get,” she told The Hindu.
The government had consulted the WHO and the UNDP guidelines before drafting the policy, Ms. Tripathi said, adding that the issues would be discussed in a Statewide meeting to be held with stakeholders next month. People’s recommendations on the website would also be considered.
Ms. Gaikwad could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.