The recent termination from service of a Tamil Nadu police constable on grounds of her sexual identity could be dismissed as a farce from a bigoted, bygone era. Except that a promising career of a not-so-privileged young person has been cruelly truncated, a question mark put on her livelihood and a severe injury inflicted on her self-esteem. The incident should serve as a wake-up call for all those concerned about gender discrimination at the workplace. If a public institution such as the police can get away with such callous treatment in dealing with an out-of-the-ordinary employee, it sends all the wrong signals to private organisations that may be predisposed to pursuing a more inclusive policy on hiring. The constable in question, a promising athlete, had evidently qualified on all professional criteria for the post. The recruit’s only crime, ostensibly, was the disclosure in a medical examination of her intersex condition, a fact that was enough to colour the judgment of officials. At a time when the Election Commission of India and other public bodies have begun recognising intersex or transgender citizens as the third sex, it is unfortunate that senior police officials chose to dismiss the constable because she could not be neatly classified as female or male. An enlightened approach would have led the police department to treat the sexuality of the appointee as in no way relevant to the discharge of her duties.
The police department’s step comes disturbingly close on the heels of the sordid spectacle last year on the question of the gender identity of the medal winning athlete Pinki Pramanik. The multiple physical investigations she was subjected to in West Bengal under the full glare of the media flouted all norms of medical confidentiality. The voyeuristic online invasion into her right to privacy was a disgraceful reminder that the respect for the dignity of the person is under constant threat in a society hungry for sensationalism. Clearly, we are still a long way from drawing the right lessons from that recent record. While the ending of India’s legal ban on homosexuality via the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Delhi High Court in 2009 shows our national capacity to embrace a modern definition of rights, the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu police constable is a setback to attempts to sensitise civil society at large about the rights of citizens to sexuality and gender identity. Reinstating the constable to her position is the surest course to restore her dignity. It would also be a small step in the direction of recovering our lost collective moral ground.