India's hijras remain on the political edge despite electoral reform | Asia Pacific

India's hijras remain on the political edge despite electoral reform

India's hijras remain on the political edge despite electoral reform

Updated 25 March 2014, 13:34 AEDT

For the first time, India's transgender community is to be officially recognised in the country's electoral process.

The Election Commission, which has the mammoth task of organising the upcoming poll, has introduced an 'others' gender option for voter identity cards.

But there appears to be little enthusiasm for the move among the transgender community, who say politicians only want their votes but don't care about their problems.

Reporter: Murali Krishnan

Speakers: Anjan Joshi, transgender activist; Rupika Dhillion, project director of Society for Peoples' Awareness, Care & Empowerment; Krishan Kumar, medical doctor; and transgenders - Aarti Sharma, Malika De Souza and Sanjana.

KRISHNAN: It is election season in India with political parties reaching out to their constituents through its time-tested campaign of song, dance and public speeches. It is still early days in the campaign period in an exceedingly staggered poll.

Upset at the system that has denied them a dignified life as equal citizens and the indifferent attitude of political leaders to their problems, transgenders or hijras are weighing the option of not voting in the upcoming polls.

MADHU: Politicians come to us seeking votes but they do nothing for us. They don't understand our problems or hardships. Why should we vote for them?

KRISHNAN:Madhu is one of India's estimated 3 million "hijras." They are a broad community encompassing transgender men and women, eunuchs, transvestites and can range from natural intersex to male cross dressers.

The Election Commission which oversees the mammoth elections had started the process to introduce a third gender category in the voter identity card for the transgender and hijra community in 2012.

Though they will be voting for the first time in the general election, poll officials say only a handful of the community members have been enrolled in the category. Some estimate the number to be no more than 28,000.

Anjan Joshi a transgender activist explains.

JOSHI: In the electoral cards we have male, female and others. The community says we are not cows, or animals to be placed as others. The wish to be understood as hijra or a transgender category and not as others… that's one issue

KRISHNAN: Few of them have been able to get their voter cards to participate in the electoral process; very few of them have registered themselves as others. Also, it seems as if the community does not exist for political parties… maybe because their numbers are less as a vote-bank.

Rupika Dhillion is the project director of the Society for Peoples' Awareness, Care & Empowerment, a NGO.

DHILLON: They have complaints. No political parties, MLAs and MPs visit their areas. Why are their issues not taken up in the manifestos? The situation is really bad. It is a lot of sadness, lot of sorrow that comes in their lives. They are really beautiful but inside, a small corner is really sad. They have a horrible feeling about the elections… the upcoming elections.

KRISHNAN:For years, this community has declared that they are normal human beings, even though with a different sexual orientation. But as society struggles to understand and embrace them, transgenders continue to live on the margins.

Malika De Souza, a transgender is angry.

DE SOUZA: Society does not respect us at all. But come elections, these political parties come running to us. We want everyone to recognize and respect our identity, then politicians will realize our real numbers!

KRISHNAN: Aarti Sharma too feels the same.

SHARMA: Forget about politicians. Our own family members do not respect us. They consider us aliens. It is really a strange situation that we find ourselves.

Social acceptance has been slow in coming for this community.

KRISHNAN:Ostracized by family and friends and harassed constantly by the police, hijras earn their living singing and dancing at celebrations of births and weddings, and sometimes through begging and prostitution.

After, the Supreme Court ruling that restored Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making homosexuality a criminal offence again late last year, it has been tough going for them. Many complain of being stressed in some way or the other.

Anjan Joshi again.

JOSHI: The community is constantly living in fear; there is a lot of police harassment. The community fears gathering in public places. There is lack of access to public spaces because of these Section and those who are into sex work, either by choice or misfortune are being harassed and blackmailed by the police, are being abused physically and sexually by people, criminal element and the police. Everyday we get such cases.

KRISHNAN:Elections for now seem to be furthest thing in the minds of the transgender community. Their battle is to earn their rights.

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