Looking back: a fight for transpersons’ voter IDs two decades ago

Updated - April 08, 2024 07:50 am IST

Published - April 08, 2024 12:22 am IST - Madurai

Transgender activist Priya Babu 

Transgender activist Priya Babu  | Photo Credit: ASHOK R

In April 2014, the Supreme Court had delivered a landmark judgment in the National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India and Ors case that transpersons are recognised as a ‘third gender’ by law.

The issue that prompted this judgment happened in 2003, when the Madhya Pradesh High Court had upheld the order of an election tribunal that had nullified the election of a transgender Kamala Jaan to the post of Mayor of Katri on the ground that the seat was reserved for a woman.

The fight for this right dates back to 2004 when advocate A. Rajini and transgender activist Priya Babu filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking voter identity cards for transpersons. Recalling those days, Ms. Rajini says, “It was a struggle, for we had to begin the case from scratch. When Priya Babu approached me, I found myself in a piquant position as I was unsure as to how organised the [transgender] group was. The judges wanted details such as which country had given them voting rights, and this had to be corroborated and collected for the first time...In July, the order was passed in our favour and the government’s positive approach helped, and the voter identity cards were issued. But I knew I had won, when the transpersons told me that for the first time, the behaviour of politicians towards them had changed.”

She recalls what a transperson had told her, “Instead of teasing us or ignoring us, they are now coming to us and asking us whether we need houses...” Priya says that the voting right gave them a foothold in society. In 2006, for the first time in a poll manifesto of a big party, the DMK, the needs of ‘Thirunangai’ were mentioned. In 2008, the State government established the country’s first Welfare Board for transpersons. In 2009, the Election Commission of India issued instructions that transgenders can indicate their sex as “other”.

After two decades, there is still more to fight for. Priya says transpersons need a reserved constituency so that they have a representative in Parliament. “We have a sizeable population and this representation would bring us more recognition,” Priya adds.

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