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India becoming more Transgender- Friendly: Read this report

Male-to-female "hijras", the most visible group in the transgender community, feature in Hindu mythology and are seen as auspicious oddities whose blessings are sought at weddings and births.

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Transgenders in India
People belonging to the transgender community take a picture with a mobile phone before the start of a rally for transgender rights in Mumbai, India, January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade - RTX2YSL4
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India's Supreme Court gave transgender people "third gender" recognition in 2014.
A growing number of Indian companies are now actively hiring transgender people.
India's 2011 census recorded half a million transgender people, 
but campaigners estimate the number at about 2 million.

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – During a training session for its first set of transgender recruits, officials from the new metro rail company in the southern Indian city of Kochi asked them if they had any concerns. They had just one: bathroom access.

“The project construction was complete by then and the stations were ready,” said Reshmi Chandrathil Ravi, a spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, a new network in the port city launched at the weekend by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“So we are now turning the big bathrooms for the differently-abled into all-gender bathrooms to be shared with the disabled,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The washroom signs have now been removed and sent for a fresh “inclusive design”. And the company has allowed its transgender recruits to choose a male or female uniform.

Kochi Metro Rail is the first government-owned company to recruit staff from the transgender community as part of Kerala state’s initiative to give the marginalised group better access to job opportunities.

Since India’s Supreme Court gave transgender people “third gender” recognition in 2014, a growing number of Indian companies have actively hired transgender people and drafted policies to ensure they are not discriminated against in the workplace.

India’s 2011 census recorded half a million transgender people but campaigners estimate the number at about 2 million. Less than half are literate and even fewer have jobs, according to the census. Traditionally, transgender people in India have been confined to the margins of society.

Male-to-female “hijras”, the most visible group in the transgender community, feature in Hindu mythology and are seen as auspicious oddities whose blessings are sought at weddings and births.

[bctt tweet=”Male-to-female Hijras are considered auspicious by Hindus.”]

This popular perception of transgender people has meant they have struggled to find regular jobs, campaigners said.

But attitudes are slowly starting to change.

“At least 12 to 13 of our member companies already have all-gender bathrooms. This started happening since last year,” said Rashmi Vikram, senior manager with Community Business, a charity that supports firms seeking to be more socially inclusive.

“Some companies have turned the disability restroom to all gender, all-abilities restroom, promoting it in a way that there is no stigma attached to it. It didn’t require a big infrastructural change, but it sent out a positive message.”

BUDDIES AND BENEFITS

A handful of firms have gone beyond ensuring bathroom access.

Global technology firm ThoughtWorks hired a transgender person in its Bangalore office as part of a diversity initiative last year and went on to provide an office buddy and an external counsellor to its new employee to smooth the settling-in period.

And in a first, IBM – named as the world’s most LGBT-inclusive company by Amsterdam-based Workplace Pride Foundation – will from this year cover gender affirmation surgery under its corporate health benefit plan, a spokeswoman for IBM India said.

Another major Indian IT firm that opened a new campus in Mumbai last year ensured at the planning stage it would have a unisex bathroom following requests from transgender employees.

Some firms are also hand-holding transgender staff during the initial employment period and keeping their identities discreet on request, but campaigners say the trend is restricted to big companies.

MANY CHALLENGES

Nyra D’souza, a transgender woman, never took a bathroom break when she worked at a Mumbai outsourcing firm – uncomfortable in the men’s washroom and not allowed in the women’s facility.

It meant holding on for 15 hours before she reached home.

At job interviews, she had been told to consider fashion, beauty or films for a job “where I could be myself”.

But when she was interviewed at Mumbai-headquartered Godrej – a leading Indian conglomerate with interests ranging from consumer goods to real estate – she was asked about her work experience, not gender.

This, a Godrej spokeswoman said, was in tune with the company’s policy to make all interactions gender-neutral.

“Such experiences are limited only to big companies, not small,” said D’souza, who finds others from her community struggling to find jobs, or dignity in the workplace if they do.

After the Supreme Court ruling, campaigners said more companies are coming forward to recruit transgender people, but are reluctant to make adaptations.

“Over the past year, we have got nearly 15 requests from companies that wish to hire a transgender, but they retreat when I ask them about bathroom access,” said Koninika Roy of the Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust that works with the LGBT community and tries to match them with jobs.

The trust had one successful placement in the last year.

But Solidarity Foundation, a Bangalore-based rights group that works with sexual minorities, had more success – it placed 15 transgender people over the last year.

“Companies are becoming more open and talking about these issues, but integration is still not part of their DNA,” said Shubha Chacko, executive director of Solidarity Foundation.

Chacko cited the case of a transgender person detained at the office gate by security guards on his first day at work.

“The biggest challenge in India is the mindset. They connect transgender to people who beg on the streets, do sex work or sing at weddings,” said Vikram of Community Business.

“We still have a long way to go. A lot more work needs to be done.”

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

 

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Flag Of BJP, homosexuality
Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)