Unfinished Business: Transgender Empowerment in India

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The recent National Hijra Habba – our 4th – was an enormous success! It was organized as a part of the Amplify Change-funded Wajood project that works in five Indian states to improve sexual health of transgenders and mitigate violence and discrimination against them. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Equity, Empowerment and Access for India’s Transgender and Hijra Communities.’

With hundreds of transgender activists from across India participating in the event, this year’s Hijra Habba discussed strategies to strengthen transgender empowerment and tackle key issues specifically related to barriers to their accessing health services and enjoying legal recognition. One of the biggest achievement of the event was building an understanding on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016, which was recently approved by the Union Cabinet under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In spite of our efforts to include them, ministers were conspicuous in their absence from the event. As the main discussion of the day was on the aforementioned Bill, it was unfortunate that leaders from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the Ministry of Social Welfare were missing. The support of NACO’s leadership, however, was deeply appreciated, and we need to ensure that discussions on transgender health and welfare extend beyond HIV.

As so many members of the transgender community for whom the Bill is meant to benefit had congregated to discuss on the Bill, it was a missed opportunity for many policymakers. How should we interpret their absence? It is imperative that this legislative process incorporate suggestions from our community themselves! The transgender community takes serious note of this nonappearance and hope that in the future the Government will expand their actively participation in such events. Nothing about us, without us!

Taking note of this absence, Smt. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Chair of Astitva Trust and current sitting member of India Country Coordinating Mechanism, said in her remarks, “If we don’t unite and work aggressively towards giving our inputs and suggestions on the Bill to the steering committee, we will miss a golden opportunity to ensure that this Bill puts utmost importance in addressing transgender issues.” She further motivated the assembled activists to put up a united front and advocate with the Government to strengthen the Bill in its entirety.

It is unfortunate that after 70 years of independence, transgender rights are still being denied, and discrimination against transgenders continues. The Supreme Court of India made a historic judgement in 2014 by recognizing the rights of transgenders across the country and providing measures so that these rights could be ensured. It remains to be seen whether the Bill under discussion will empower transgenders. There are a number of lacunae in the Bill, and it is crucial that the Bill is reviewed and measures are taken to address these gaps.

Transgender empowerment continues to be unfinished business. Too many of us struggle in our lives every day. Too many of us are at risk. Too many of us are insulted, beaten and killed. As members of the transgender community, we must support and bolster the trans movement in India and across the world. We need to stand united and work collaboratively with each other and with all stakeholders to guarantee the security, rights and dignity of all transgenders. We need to ensure that the Government works with us to reach this objective. Only then can the promise of our democracy be achieved. Trans lives matter, and India must act with urgency!

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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