Transgender voters double in number

But activists say they represent just a fraction of community

April 23, 2018 10:18 pm | Updated April 24, 2018 04:01 pm IST - Bengaluru

 As many as 4,552 transgenders have registered in the electoral rolls this year in  the State.

As many as 4,552 transgenders have registered in the electoral rolls this year in the State.

The State government’s move to clear the State Policy for Transgenders (2017) and subsequent awareness drives by organisations, working for the welfare of the community, have helped mobilise many transgender voters this year.

According to data available with the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), transgender voter registration has doubled from the previous Assembly elections and 4,552 have registered this year in the State.

Among the first-time voters is a senior citizen from the community, Jagadamba, 65. She was disowned by her family at the age of 14 and she went to Mumbai where she was forced to beg and engage in sex work to eke out a living.

“I didn’t want to do it anymore. I came back home but my family refused to accept me. I have been living with my community members in Bengaluru. Last month, I was told about voter registration and I finally got my card. I had no idea about the process of voting, before this,” she said.

Transgender activist Akkai Padmashali too will be casting her vote for the first time with a fresh voter’s ID, officially registering her as a female voter. Her NGO, Ondede, has taken up awareness activities across the State to encourage more people from the community to register themselves. “We had an interaction with the Election Commission, asking for awareness programmes for the community. The commission took up the initiative. From Ondede, we too have organised awareness programmes in coordination with the EC.” At the district-level, the Election Commission’s drive to reach out to the community has been a big boost, said Sana Shree, a student of journalism from St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru.

“The officials have been showing us demos of EVMs, and are also helping people register on the spot. All this has increased the number of registrations.”

Discrimination

While registration is one step, turning up on the day of the voting also takes courage, and many fear that they will face ridicule and discrimination. “I have had this experience while waiting in queues. People pass uncalled for comments,” said Anuradha.

To ensure that people are not discouraged by such incidents, they have requested officials from the Election Commission to lend them additional assistance at the venue.

Even though the numbers have doubled, the registered voters are a fraction of the community. In Bengaluru itself, there are 5,000 transgenders, while across Karnataka the number could be has high as 25,000. The official statistics are unlikely to reflect the actual number of voters registered, said Uma, a trans-activist and founder of Jeeva, a NGO dedicated to gender minorities.

She believes that the official statistics are a “skewed number” and do not include several transgenders who would have registered either as male or female.

“This could be due to fear of coming out due to discrimination from the society. Some may choose to register as male or female as they are more comfortable with that gender identity,” she added.

She also pointed out that a large number of transgenders are unable to get valid identity proof as they do not have any rental agreement because of prejudice.

“There are a lot of barriers in getting a voter ID but many of us in the community are trying to overcome these barriers and have enrolled transgenders as voters so that we can make our voice heard,” she said.

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