A deeper look into Kerala’s comprehensive transgender policy

Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz

By Swarnima Bhattacharya

New Delhi: During its first International Conference on Gender Equality, Kerala launched the country’s first transgender (TG) policy, placing itself at the vanguard of positive change in terms of gender and sexuality. The Minister for Social Welfare KM Muneer handed over the first copy of the document to noted TG activist Akkai Padmashali during the inaugural event.

This follows from a Supreme Court directive of 2014 which recognises transgenders as the ‘third gender’, and calls upon all the states to frame policies, schemes and legislations which would foster inclusivity and sensitisation. What is laudable about the step taken by Kerala is that it has done much more than putting into place a cosmetic dossier of good intentions.

More Than A Few Necessary Provisions

Most importantly, taking off from what the Supreme Court ruled, the policy recognises and upholds the transgender people’s right to self-identify and cross-dress. The policy also reiterates the SC ruling that the dehumanising term ‘Third Gender’ be replaced in official parlance by ‘Transgender’. Provosions will soon be made for TG people to make corresponding changes in all their official I-cards, where they can assign themselves any gender they choose to. This addresses some of the basic questions of identity the TG community battles with, regarding nomenclature and self-perception.

The beneficiaries of the policy are all groups of transgenders, including trans men, trans women and intersex individuals. Their right to equality, to live without violence and their freedom of speech and expression.

The policy views the TG community as educationally and socially backward, and paves way for reservations and inclusions in education, employment, housing schemes. Suitable amendments and provisions have been asked to be made in the Indira Awas Yojana in order to include TG people.

Similar amendments have also been sought in laws governing domestic violence, especially Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, where only women have been recognised as the victims. Changes have also been sought in the Juvenile Justice Act in order to address violence on “gender non-confirming youth”.

In fact, the phrase “gender non-confirming” appears at several places in the document, which is heartening, as it displays an acceptance of the nuances of gender fluidity. In fact, the policy places a high premium on educating the parents about “gender non-confirming children”.

The policy directs schools to sensitise its teachers, students and non-teaching staff on gender and sexuality by enlisting the help of NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Such collaborative projects on awareness and sensitisation have also been encouraged in police training institutes and programs.

Besides setting up information and crisis prevention centres, a 24-hour helpline will also be set up with the help of NGOs and CBOs working in the field. In order to facilitate ease of access in public spaces, public washrooms shall now have separate booths transgenders, along with those for women and men.

In order to bring about a more holistic rehabilitation, the policy seeks to make provisions for a monthly pension for destitute transgender people. Legislations are sought to be framed which will include their rights regarding marriage, partnership, live-in arrangements and parenting. This is all more praiseworthy because it places the TG people in the realm of normative social living.

Many Hits, Few Misses

While Kerala’s transgender policy touches upon several aspects of gender dysphoria, many TG activists bemoan that discriminatory acts such as 377 still exist.

“It’s boiling down to ensuring dignity for transgenders but how can we have that as long as we are having Section 377? We are also awaiting the Transgender Bill which is to be tabled in the parliament in December,” Akkai  Padmashali said at the International Conference on Gender Equality. Under Section 377 any sexual activity that cannot produce a baby is viewed as “unnatural” and punishable.

Therefore, while an open mind has been kept in terms of gender, the grey areas in the expression of sexuality for the non-heteronormative is a subject that is still met with silence and discomfort at large.

Despite that, most gender activists have hailed the move made by the Kerala administration as the first constructive step, along with the Transgender Education Scholarship.

MK Muneer said that two years ago, when the process of formulating the policy went underway, he was told that there were no transgender people in Kerala. Today, a fairly well-rounded policy for the TG community not only safeguards their interests but also dispels the invisibility, silences and pariah-dom surrounding the “gender non-confirming”.