In April 2008, when Tamil Nadu set up a Transgender Welfare Board, the State was hailed as a model for progressive development. Other states, including Maharashtra and West Bengal, followed suit. But now, over seven years after its formation, former members allege that the board is completely inactive.
The reply to a Right to Information (RTI) petition filed by The Hindu confirms this: the last meeting of the Board was held was in December 2013. Ironically, the minutes of that meeting reveal that the Minister for Social Welfare, who heads the board, had recommended that it meet every three months.
The Board was set up with 11 official members including the social welfare minister, director of social welfare, the finance and law secretaries and the chairperson of the women’s commission, among others. It had nine non-official members from the transgender community and from non-governmental organisations.
According to the RTI reply, the non-official members initially had a three-year tenure, from 2008 to 2011 but since the end of their tenure, the Board has not been reconstituted. “A new list of non-official members was recommended for the reconstitution of the Board and was sent to the government. However, there has been no decision on this as yet,” the reply says. Since the non-official members’ tenure expired in 2011, subsequent meetings were held only with official members, the reply says.
Members allege that the change in government has led to the non-functioning of the Board – it was set up by a previous regime.
“We have no idea what is going on – whether the Board is running or whether we are part of it. Setting up the board was not part of a political agenda for us – we did it for the benefit of transgenders in Tamil Nadu,” said one member, who wanted to remain anonymous.
For the first three years, said R. Jeeva, another member, meetings were held every three months and work went on. “After that, every year we have gone and asked them what is happening with the Board, but we have never received a proper response,” she said.
According to the social welfare department’s performance budget for 2015-16, the assistance provided by what the document calls the third gender welfare board, includes educational loans. But as per the RTI reply, in over seven years, only two persons have received educational assistance. “We have told them of so many transgenders who are in need of such loans. They take the proposals from us, but money is never given,” said Ms. Jeeva.
House pattas, free housing and short stay homes are also among the assistance measures listed, but as per the RTI reply, only 29 houses have been built and handed over so far at Rs. 75,000 per house, all in Coimbatore district. Funds have been sanctioned for another 133 houses in eight districts. “This has been an essential requirement of ours, as transgenders find it very difficult to get housing. Very few people are willing to rent to us,” said a member.
Another scheme listed is that of a monthly pension of Rs. 1,000 for destitute transgenders over the age of 40. “The pension is erratic. It comes once in six or seven months. February was the last month many received it,” she said.
The Board’s inactivity is very unfortunate, said A.J. Hariharan of Indian Community Welfare Organisation, a non-official member. “It was a very encouraging move and meant a lot to the community. Now, it is not functioning at all. Community members have appealed several times to no avail. I have had no communication from them after 2011,” he said.