Is equality an illusion? This question troubles me from time to time. I never quite find the answer. The 2014 judgement by India’s Supreme Court that recognized and protected the rights of the Third Gender was tangible progress toward equality, one rarely seen by transgender communities anywhere in the world. After 67 years of Indian Independence, the ruling was received as a promise to institutionalize equality for transgender and hijra communities across the country.
However, this achievement is now slowly being eroded by the Government, which has been half-hearted at best and hostile at worst to taking steps to ensure positive discrimination for the transgender community as instructed by the Supreme Court judgement. In the absence of action to transform the Supreme Court’s intentions into policies and programmes that can address the deep marginalization experienced by the transgenders in India, the concepts of equality and equal justice for all are being denigrated.
Today, it is time that we build a truly inclusive society that embraces equality for the transgender and hijra community. Laws are needed to address the continued obstacles we face. It is not simply equal treatment that we need but a broader concept of social equity and equal justice under law. It is crucial that we build an India in which no one is left behind, including the visible and vulnerable transgender community. Young transgenders should not miss the benefits of education because they skip school for fear of ridicule and violence. We need to change attitudes about sexuality and gender. We need school programs on sex, sexuality and gender issues rather than the current uncomfortable silence on these subjects. We need jobs. We need safe places to live.
Overcoming discrimination for the transgender community and sexual minorities will be key to ensure equal justice for all. Our Government needs to wake up and formulate inclusive policies that will establish a truly equal society. Equality cannot be achieved simply by removing discriminatory laws. We need to work together to change social attitudes to match the promise of our laws. We cannot wait any longer to build true equality in India. Equality must not be an illusion.
The author of this post, Simran Shaikh, is a committed hijra activist and serves as a Senior Programme Officer working on both the Pehchan and Vihaan programmes at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.
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