Bengal's transgenders want socio-economic reservation at all levels

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Kolkata, Mar.18 (ANI): Transgender persons in West Bengal want reservation not just in Parliament, but also in education, jobs and all community and social development programmes. Transgender activist, Agniva Lahiri points out that mere political representation cannot bring emancipation to a community which is fighting for its right to citizenship and human rights in India.

Lahiri points out that India is still not prepared to recognize the existence of its transgender community. All application forms, including those for identity and nationality like those for voter-ID cards, pan cards, passports etc, all universally have just two options - Male or Female. Lahiri says this is discrimination against transgender persons.

Now the Election Commission has agreed to add an 'others' column a welcome move - but at the same time negating the good is a census rule which puts all transgender persons under 'Male'. Right now, the fight is for recognition as individual citizens of this country, he says, adding that the chairman of the Unique Identity Card project is also being petitioned to recognize the community.

Over 300 representatives from Transgender and MSM (men having sex with men) communities from 14 districts are attending a two-day state consultation in Kolkata from today (March 18 )under the auspices of the network organization MANAS. The consultation aims to address and document their experiences, problems and demands and chalk out an agenda to sensitize policy makers. The focus is on health care and human rights for the community.

According to Anindya Hajra, secretary, MANAS Bangla, the network works directly with 10,000 transgender and MSM persons in the state while thousands more are waiting for their day in the sun. Hajra says persecution at every stage, particularly while seeking something as basic as health care, is one of the primary concerns of the community, whose members are shunned, harassed, humiliated even by doctors in government hospitals. He says the irony is that policy makers point to the community as being the most at risk for HIV/AIDS but deny it access to even primary health care.

Violence against transgender and MSM persons, insensitive social gender perceptions and harassment by the police were the other main problems faced by the community, according to Hajra. The Delhi High Court ruling in July last year which decriminalized gay sex has had a positive impact on the community, as it has brought the matter out of the closet into the open, forcing society to take cognizance of the existence of homosexuals and transgender persons, Hajra said, adding that the community demanded repeal of Section 377 which bans homosexuality in India.

Because of Section 377, by association, the police often invokes the Public Nuisance Act or the Obscenity Act against homosexuals and transgender persons. Since when has wearing a saree become a criminal offence?, asks Agniva Lahiri, pointing out that many of their community are regularly harassed by law enforcers for even that. "We as all walking public nuisances currently, as per law - a denial of our human rights", he says.

The ongoing state consultation is aimed towards encouraging awareness with the transgender community, sharing experiences and documenting needs and demands to bring pressure on policy makers to recognize, accept and grant human rights to this neglected section of society. By Ajitha Menon (ANI)

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