Opinion » Lead

Updated: May 31, 2012 00:41 IST

The third gender's right to dignity

Prabha Sridevan
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By recognising the rights of the transgender community, the state is not doling out largesse; it is only performing its duty under the Constitution

They came beautifully dressed, some a tad brightly, but all beautifully and proudly, there was much chatter, and a lot of sisterhood. It was the public hearing of transgenders at Delhi. An excluded group must definitely feel cheered in a gathering, where the members of that group form the majority. True, the transgender experience is full of pain. It is a story of gross human rights violation, but today they had a voice, they had visibility.

The Pakistan Supreme Court recently ruled that those who do not consider themselves to be either male or female should be allowed to choose an alternative sex in their national identity cards. I thought of the times when I fill up forms, mindlessly marking (F), and what it must be like to have the pen faltering then, not knowing if I should mark the one or the other. I thought of the times when I enter the public restrooms for women, and if at all something hits me it is the sensory assault of those pit-places, and what it must be like to feel a sense of achievement that finally I gained my right to enter the restroom of my choice. A body which is built in one way, houses a mind which is crying to be something else. It is difficult to walk in those shoes, but that does not mean those shoes are not there.


The stories are heart-rending. Every citizen has a right to life, the right to self-expression, under the Constitution. The right of gender expression is inherent in it, as much as the right of expression of sexuality. This is a facet of the right to life. The space of the third gender is not a space that is easy to inhabit for the ones who are there, and not easy to imagine for the ones who are not there.

Parents and siblings do not understand why this child cannot be like the others. Nor does the child know why, when he looks like his brothers, he wants to be like his sisters or the other way round. Acceptance is denied and the child faces exclusion even at home. In Sunil Babu Pant vs Nepal Govt and others, the Supreme Court of Nepal used the Yogyakarta Principles and held that sexual orientation is not “mental perversion” or “emotional and psychological disorder” and that the people of different gender identities are entitled to enjoy their rights without discrimination.

The discrimination against the third gender is embedded in our consciousness and is aggravated by ignorance and insensitivity. Even well-meaning persons are uncomfortable if they face someone who does not fit in the Procrustean beds of “the normal”. One might well ask, why a person who has a man's body, can't mark (M) in application forms, or queue up in the men's restroom and be done with it. I will give you two answers. The first comes from a member of the community, “In public places, we are treated differently. If I am out and visit the women's washroom they won't like it and if I go to men's washroom … you know it would be a different story. Where should I go?” The next answer is from Justice Albie Sachs's The Strange Alchemy of Law and Life: “There was an abysmal decision by our top court, the appeal Court, in the 1930s, when people of Indian origin objected to being excluded from post office counters where white people would queue. Three out of four judges could not see the problem; the applicants could be served just as well in the one queue as in the other. Only one judge, Gardiner said, ‘It touches on the dignity of people to be excluded, it's not simply a question of functionality'.” The brown man will get the same postcards in the other counter. So why complain? No, it is about dignity, real dignity to all barring none. Justice Sachs speaks of the equality of the vineyard (grading up) or the equality of the graveyard (levelling down). The choice is entirely our people's and of their representatives.


That day at the public hearing for “Access to Justice and Social Inclusion” Aradhana Johri (Additional Secretary, National AIDS Control Organization) narrated an incident at a parliamentary consultation. She said: “Avina [a transgender] got up to speak and asked the audience, “Do you see me?” and when they said yes, she said that though you ‘see' me you don't ‘see' me. I am invisible, I am nowhere, we are the third gender.” Our country must be having the highest percentage of “invisible” people, people who do not matter, the disabled, the third gender, the old, the oppressed, the pavement dwellers, the list goes on. Perhaps that is why the forgotten ones vote in large numbers while for the others, it is a matter of option. For the invisible groups, it is important that they vote, because an election is the only time they count. That is why this community fought for the right to indicate their gender as “O” for ‘others' in the electoral rolls, and got it in 2009.

Recently, the fight for equality of transgenders scored a remarkable victory. The Argentine Senate unanimously passed the Gender Identity Act, which has been described as the most progressive and liberal in the world. It recognises that a person's subjectively felt and self-defined gender may or may not correspond with the gender assigned at birth. This is the right that the participants at the public hearing claimed, which is acknowledgment of their “human-ness”. If their gender identity is not accepted then even if they are elected, their election may be nullified. This has happened in our country.

The State of Tamil Nadu has a fair record of recognising the rights of the transgender community. But let us remember that this is not state largesse, this is the state performing its duty under the Constitution. One participant said in poignantly poetic words that we have day and night and the beauty of dusk and dawn too, the in-betweens, and asked why their worth cannot be recognised. Transgender persons walking alone are subjected to harassment, and so, in defence, they adopt a loud and aggressive behaviour. There are highly qualified, educated and articulate persons who cannot secure employment because of the difference. They pleaded, “Please do not drive us to sex-work. If we have no other option, what do we do?” They argue that if there can be reservation for the differently-abled, there must be for the differently-gendered too. One speaker said, “I too want to nurture my child.” There are no answers in a climate of non-acceptance.

The experience of the transgender community with the police is dignity-destroying. The case of Jayalakshmi v State of Tamil Nadu is an example. A young transgender named Pandian was interrogated by the police regarding a theft case. He was so abused and sexually harassed by the police personnel that he poured kerosene and set fire to himself. The Madras High Court ordered compensation. If the face of law which should protect the citizen turns brutal, to whom will the weak and vulnerable turn? Hear this voice from the community, “When [the police] saw my body they said that there is no hair on your body anywhere so you get yourself waxed or what do you do. First they began asking nicely then they told me that night time is the time for the police. After that I never went to the police.” How far can one go in reducing the dignity of another?

The young transgender drops out of school because of exclusion and one participant argued, “Provisions should be made that in whatever attire a child comes to school the right to education cannot be denied.” A safe childhood and access to education is their right. When state and society have no space for the different ones, they are doomed to be excluded. So wherever there is a form to be filled or there is a definition of “person” as male or female, this group goes invisible. The community wanted to know how the domestic violence against them can be addressed if the law recognises protection of women alone. They wanted an Indian protocol put in place for the sex change process.

All they want is to be recognised as persons and treated with dignity. I will end with their own words: “Today … we want to earn a decent livelihood, live with dignity.” In short, they assert their right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

(The writer is a former judge of the Madras High Court and Chairman of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board)

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The agony of a 'missing piece of a basic identity', which is the case of transgenders is something that laymen find very difficult to understand. Gender is a very 'taken for granted' identity which forms so many stereotypes in our society, even in the most modern of circle. And that is why it is impossible to ignore. Not being able to identify with your gender tends to handicap you mentally and traps you in so many ways that you're able to live neither your dreams nor your potentials.
Admittedly its something difficult for the cisgender to understand but people ARE waking up and recognizing the human side to it, which is a ray of hope and relief. Thank you so much for putting up this article.

from:  Aryan Ruparelia
Posted on: Jun 16, 2012 at 11:00 IST

Well, whatever thought was pricking[pondering] in my mind for a long very well written by Prabha.We are all just discussing about
this issue and we are all in a opinion that it will change but what is
the exact solution?Will their life will be changed tomorrow?

from:  Gomathi
Posted on: Jun 2, 2012 at 11:40 IST

From the yore of the times , transgenders have been considered as sick ,
insane people.We have considered them inhuman and since closed our
senses on them and they have become "invisible". Now the time have come
to shake out the century old beliefs and give them their opportunity to
become visible .
Nicely written article

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jun 2, 2012 at 03:09 IST

Well done Prabha Sridevan! Thank you for voicing your valid opinion.
It's about time we learn to stop finding reasons to discriminate. As the
saying goes "the sun shines upon us all equally." When then do we try to
rob people of their dignity and revel in such abuse?

from:  Jmoss
Posted on: Jun 2, 2012 at 00:51 IST

Transgenders are born so not by their fault.Its decided by nature or
by their parent's genus.They should not be ill-treated since their
appearance is not their fault.

from:  Amala
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 20:38 IST

Well researched article but most of us belong to the class of appreciating it but doing nothing towars it. How many of us a willing to give a job to a transgender? Are we willing to hire tham as maid servant or a driver etc? Only Hinduism gives them a place in the soceity and they even have a deity for themselves. Our forefathers were more open to their plight than the present generation of mankind!

from:  Tamilselvan
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 19:14 IST

Prabha Sridevan just so well written....I mean actually let us not turn blind to this (not so) "invisible" lot present on earth....they are one of us and should be treated the same way.......

from:  Ishita
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 11:54 IST

Nice interpretation of the day to day issue. The third genders are not different, but still it's still beyond our ken. They are hamstrung of their rights, but I think it is all about the need of our grown up understanding rather than associating it to reservation. They are not necessarily economically deprived rather pauper of their social equality . Also, will the reservation able to change people's attention ?

from:  Sumit
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 03:52 IST

Well written and well heart always goes out to LGBT as they
are the most oppressed. we should bring laws that allows them to
classify as a third gender and allows them to pursue a normal life as
the way we live.

from:  Ramya V
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 02:27 IST

A great article, this is.I think this single article has already changed many of the notions, I have been harbouring for a very long time. India must take this issue as a challenge and should go all out to ensure basic rights and dignity to this community, as failure in this area will only result in more crimes on and by this community..Finally congratulations to the author and THE HINDU for bringing out such a great article.

from:  Karthik
Posted on: Jun 1, 2012 at 00:25 IST

Nicely written should be humane to accept the transgenders as fellow humans. It's not their fault that they were transgenders. They should be given the liberty to choose their sexuality and accepted into the society without any discriminations. It's agonising to see the way they are treated in their day to day life. They should be given their right place in the society and should take legal actions against those who dicriminates them.

from:  Asokan suppiah
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 23:19 IST

thanks for hitting heart and mind both
former making us aware, about the feeling of those invisible it really touches in depth
latter by giving us new direction in thinking.every person is unique, has the right to preserve his/her uniqueness,simultaneously,right to express it,that to,with dignity.
they should be given fare chance to play,live,express,behave..exploitation ,is the,word from devil dictionary,practicing it on human is severe crime ..
no doubt they are different ,but that is what universe is all about....we should respect it creativity,they have same right to live as we do..
thanks for enhancing our vision

from:  sunil sharma
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 22:45 IST

Cheers Prabha for this wonderful article. Sure the light is yet to reach in much of the dimly lit India's mindscape. It fails to realize- the ill-temper of the sex worker, the rudeness of the transgender, and the bitterness of the reticent, are just mere reactions to its own insensitivity towards them. Somebody rightly said- 'Hatred- Its taught!'
Inclusiveness towards all and an embracing of the 'different' is surely going to be the key to the solution.

from:  Prashant Singh
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 21:58 IST

Dear Prabha Sridevan, your well-researched and succinct article is
truly humanistic in its content to say the least and deserving of all
the commendations readers make.
For a country and a people, to aspire to greatness in spirit, morality
and dignity, must ensure that the societal, cultural, educational,
economical and political applications take on board that no person is
invisible and that the rights and laws are just and equally applied to
one and all indiscriminately.
Thank you.

from:  rajagopal raman
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 18:36 IST

The article is really an eye opening and awareness increasing
article.Many bad doubts which I was having my mind about Transgenders
and I am shameful about that.You have done an fantastic work by
speaking out on this particular issue.Thank You.

from:  Sahil Joshi
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 18:23 IST

Great article! Suddenly I felt ashamed of my earlier embarrassment
during my encounters in the buses, trains, bazaars and everywhere. I
saw but never recognized their happy faces. Though i never was
disrespectful, there never was a friendly smile on my face or a kind
greeting to them. I somehow failed to see that they are also, like me
are creations of God with a colorful life around them. It is an article
of great sensitivity and a rare understanding of life. I thank the
author for giving that rare insight.

from:  Ramesh Kumar Nayani
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 18:21 IST

Admittedly, I believe that gender “O” is in the state of destitution,
and they are the discriminated group, whose fate is in jeopardy. It
unjust after got to know that the nuisance they bear in everyday life.
The crux is they live in a society called “naught tradition”, where
they strive to get their prerogative.
The de-facto problem is, being as a human how come we can (whether
state government, police dept or general public) malice them and given
them a bleak to live. On hand we are saying India is culturally
diversified, but in other hand the minority group is get trauma every
so often.
The transgender community is not the puppet of self dignity,but rather
they hold high self esteem to be part of democratic India. Our
government replenishes the minority community’s hand making provision
such as, right to share the stage with others, right to get employed,
should get freedom of expression while chose their own path and most
importantly should get tagged with “O” as their gender.

from:  Prasannajeet Mohanty
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 17:05 IST

An Appreciable article been read by me. The content in the article shows the real picture how the transgenders are been treated in the society. They are also humans and should prevail all the rights been given to a normal human.The Government should make certain measures for treating them equal in respect to education as well as employment.

from:  Mridul Sidhar
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 16:38 IST

This article shows the true face of society, Not even a single part of India is devoid where such kind of humiliation is not faced by the third gender. I am completely in favor of giving a reservation to this beautiful community. These are the wonders of nature. Since nature has awarded them both of the qualities of man and woman they should be respected. They have the strength of men and beauty with brain like women. It is our fault only,why they are invisible to us. When it comes to allow them mingle up with our society, our feets take a back step. They too are human beings, the most beautiful one. Atleast we should give them a chance to show what they have got. I am sure they can do much better then us in any field if compared, it is just a matter of fact that the chance has never been given and I feel very bad for that. I hope if something comes in my hand to help them out I definitely will try my level best to put them in a good position in our society

from:  Priyanka
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 16:18 IST

A well written article. I think, the society needs to be made aware of
the third gender and appreciate they also deserve to be treated with
dignity like any other human being. For this purpose,the government
should come forward pro-actively to provide education etc. More
important is they should be provided with suitable livelyhood so that
other citizens may avoid shunning them. It is really heart rending to
read that"There are highly qualified, educated and articulate persons
who cannot secure employment because of the difference. They pleaded,
“Please do not drive us to sex-work. If we have no other option, what
do we do?”. If percentage reservation is not possible,at least those
who come for education and employment should not be turned back. The
govt. can make a rule to this effect and also, those who harass,
including police will be severly dealt with as on par with SC/ST.

from:  Narayana Sambarapu
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 15:27 IST

What ever we write,discuss or speak about exceptions are not going to be
practical and its not that much easy also.Still we can expect a minute
change and let's hope it adds to enrich our attitude towards everything.

from:  reghunathmenon
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 15:13 IST

Its a fantastic article , well written i should appreciate the energy of writer. The wordings and the way of expression is perfect. I feel its a serious topic to discuss at least. People those are not he/she having some feelings and rights also, the are also human.

from:  Ruchi Singh
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 13:45 IST

A very complicated natural phenomenon is well versed and correctly analyzed in most humane and passionate way. I fully agree with the writer and feel responsibility to stand beside the transgenders in any situation and under any circumstance.

from:  Raisul Huq Bahar
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 13:32 IST

Lovely article! It had me sinking and thinking that grim is not words or an aura--it is everywhere inside oneself where words cannot even reach.
Humanity is facing countless issues which only require people to sit down peacefully and understand why are they against something. I only felt that human kind's evolution has not stopped for there are issues with acceptance and boundaries in thought... our thought needs to evolve.
I remember asking mum as a child what kind of people these transgendered are, and my mother replying that these are having strengths of both genders. I am not an opinionated citizen, but I do aver that we need to open our thoughts, minds. I would love to witness the day when transgendered will be a normal kid with usual profound cuteness and a normal adult with love for his country and kinsmen.

from:  Abhineet Sharma
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 13:25 IST

The article truly tells how the 'other' people are denied their
importance by the system.Hope,someday,even they can live with dignity.

from:  Anjali
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 12:16 IST

This is a very well written article. Typically rural as well urban societies are organized in geo-economic spaces. The rich occupy the plush, the poor the slums. But this geo-economic division may be devoid or equally fractured in terms of gender biases. And for "invisibles", this is more so as they are not welcomed in any of these spaces. About right to live a dignified life, that is may be the worst human rights violation that is happening since time immortal. An estimate says that the third gender constitutes roughly 1.88 crore persons worldwide. I cannot imagine a more severe case of marginalization other than the economic one. This begs for an immediate reform of laws to ensure right to gender and formal/official/legal inclusion of the third gender. Once there is a proper policy framework, the invisibles can become a indivisible part of the so called mainstream.

from:  Nitin Korepal
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 11:44 IST

Well this is very well written about the transgenders. Society is still
looking them by suspicious. They have their rights and we have to give
them equal position in our society in Job and education.
But the gay and lesbian relations are against the nature. There is no
way to allow the wrong thing in our society. These things not only
increase the different disease in our body but also imbalance the
nature. Govt. must make stringent law to curb this. so that nobody will
look into it.

from:  Harmendra Singh
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 11:37 IST

Prabha Sridevan has written a just article. Her perspicacity in dealing with an issue that is part of the many imperfections that we as a society and country at large deal with. Education inter alia I believe will help stem the boorish conditioning that we have for the 'differently gendered'. More power to you Prabha Sridevan.

from:  Sambit Dash
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 11:12 IST

Superbly crafted. Well endowed with facts.
There was a time when the scheduled tribes and castes of India formed
the "invisible" chunk of our society. Social stigma and
discrimination, isolated this group from reaping the benefits of
shining India. By and large, special reservations bridged the gap and
placated the insensitivity and discrimination towards this class.
After 30 years of reservations this class has come out of the abyssal
depth of social isolation to which it was forced post-independence. It
is high time that we prune the percentage reservation for SC and STs
and make amendments for the LGBT community. Only then, our
constitution will stand unfettered.

from:  Suryakant
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 11:03 IST

A very good article which depicts the struggle of the third gender.We can understand the agony they are undergoing once we imagine ourselfs in thier place.The very immediate step that needs to be implemented is to provide ways and means for their decent and dignified life.

from:  sunil kumar borra
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 11:00 IST

An oft repeated statement in Indian society about transgenders/LGBT is " The west is destroying our society ". However they don't know that homosexuality was first recognized in Indian society during Gupta period by Vatsayana. He has explicitly mentioned in his book " Kamasutra" about the act and never condemns it. Such were the liberal ideas prevailing at that time. So what kind of modernism are we pursuing. Every body should and must have the right to express themselves. God have created everybody. Can we question his creation?

from:  Abhinav Gour
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 10:16 IST

Two days after a similar debate started in US of how to legalize the gay
marriage, it is blissful to see something same here too, with article
published , critisizing the gender inequity which is thwarting the
society like anything. Though talking of reservation for them is inviting another intricacy at the door, albeit , special provisions can be made for them to grant them a dignified life.

from:  Muhammad Ahmad
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 09:36 IST

The article assertively put forward the argument of the 'Other' community in the India social structure.

from:  Kartikay
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 09:20 IST

I recently had the same realizaton while sitting in a Delhi Metro ladies coach and watching a guard asking a group of transgenders to shift to the men's coach. I'm a person who would stand up to something wrong but that day i found myself clueless about what to do. The third gender is totally ignored when it comes to making appropriate provisions in order to make daily life respectable for them.

from:  Neha Verma
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 08:26 IST

It is very nice piece of article which has a greater impact to the readers to understand the transgender community and their role/responsibility in the society. i must say that without proper acceptance in the family and relatives, it would be very difficult to lead the dignified life in the society. being a transgender, i also go thought the terrible physical and psychological harassment at home.the article must enlight the readers to acceptance and dignity of the community.i thing the lager issue is that unacceptance in the family/relatives/society leads to them into the become sex-worker. in rural india, it very privilant that the transgender community is living miserable life without having their basic human rights and if have in other way it not tolerated by the majority and always oppressed by police and other my appeal is that we must recognised as other category and must give respect at least as human being and respect their human rights.

from:  Aishwarya Pradhan
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 08:09 IST

I applaud THE HINDU for this well written article. Prabha has
researched well and delved deep in the issues that transgenders face
in India. As we know, we are a deeply conservative society, divided by
our hatred for anything that is different - be it lesbians, gay or
transgender community. Not only is the LGBT community a subject of
ridicule, but they are also subject to the most indignity that one can
face. Our society is based on misplaced fears, half truths, bias and
bigotry towards this community. Kudos to Prabha for the well
articulated article about the transgender community. I salute THE
HINDU to go off the beaten path, and for carrying meaningful articles
like these - which should change the way we view others. THE HINDU has
become a torch bearer in matters like these, and congratulations, one
more time!!

from:  S. Thirunarayanan
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 06:02 IST

Prabha Sridevan's article must be read with rapt attention by all who raise their
eyebrows towards "others" , who form the "invisible"chunk of our society . As it is
righy pointed out that dignity and social base should be non-neogiable regardless of
caste creed and gender and one's sexual orientation .
If we discriminate against transgenders ,be it in office or road ,we would fail our
constitution- framaers who envisaged an India ensuring right to life to all genders .
India should be more liberal in bringing some landmark legilation to emphasise that
inlusiveness and egalitarianism are at the heart of our Constitution: in this respect
taking leaf out of Argentina is as commendable as any social welfare programme.

from:  Shivnarayan
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 04:48 IST

Well versed opinion.
I'm a proud heterosexual man. But I always felt something is wrong in the society when I see transgenders, homosexuals and other exceptional people get mistreated and humiliated by the system and the non-exceptional people.
Nature is a wonder. No two things, however similar they might be, are never exactly the same. Mangoes have seed. However, exceptionally, there comes mangoes without seed. Flower trees blossoms. But some of them don't, again exception. That doesn't mean those mangoes or the flower trees are sick. They are healthy mangoes and healthy flower trees. They are exceptions in the nature.
Similarly, The transgender and homosexuals are beautiful exceptions. They are not sick. Some foolish non-exceptional people think that these people are sick and should be counselled and cured. How did you come to that conclusion? Did nature gave you speacial authority to judge other fellow humans? Each and every product in the nature is equal, please accept.

from:  Nages Norway
Posted on: May 31, 2012 at 03:00 IST
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