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A deeper look into Kerala’s comprehensive transgender policy

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Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz
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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”.

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I Was Portrayed Lesbian Which Embarrassed Me: Aashka Goradia

Aashka and actress Juhi Parmar opened up about their journeys in the industry.

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With a career spanning over 16 years and 22 shows to her credit, Aashka has carved a niche for herself on television.Flickr
With a career spanning over 16 years and 22 shows to her credit, Aashka has carved a niche for herself on television.Flickr

TV actress Aashka Goradia says her sexuality was portrayed in a wrong way which in turn embarrassed her in front of her parents.

On Zee TV’s “JuzzBaatt… Sangeen Se Namkeen Tak”, Aashka and actress Juhi Parmar opened up about their journeys in the industry.

“My sexuality was portrayed in a wrong way. I was intentionally made to come across as a lesbian on this reality show through editing tricks and it was extremely embarrassing for me and my parents. I was rubbing balm on a sick fellow inmate’s body after she had broken into an allergic reaction,” said Aashka in a statement to IANS.

“I was putting my hand inside her blanket so as not to embarrass her about her rash on national television and they made it look like something else was going on. At that point, I was inside the house as per the show’s format and wasn’t even around to defend myself. When my mother visited me, she told me about how I was being depicted in the media and how everyone had started questioning my sexuality,” she added.

Aashka Goradia with her husband Brent Goble
Aashka Goradia with her husband Brent Goble, flickr

“But, the show’s host, my friends and the entire media fraternity came out in my support and tried their best to salvage the situation. And, today I want to take this opportunity to let the whole world know that I am happily married to a very handsome man and extremely content with being straight.”

Recalling an incident on another reality TV show, Juhi narrated how a show edited scenes to make her look like a “vamp”.

Juhi said: “The show that I did was for couples and I had participated with my ex-husband Sachin… the footage was edited in a completely shocking manner almost as if to change the entire meaning of what was actually happening.”

“I was shown in a negative light to break my otherwise holier-than-thou ‘bahu’ image, while Sachin was portrayed as a ‘bechara’. I was shocked when I came to know that they made me look like a vamp on-screen. It was not a pleasant experience at all,” she added. (IANS)