Tuesday, 14 August 2012

First and Foremost - we all are human

A recent show Taboo on Natgeo awakened me and made me think - what if every time while filling a form, I had to think whether to mark 'Male' or 'Female'. What if every time I stood outside the washroom gates, I had to go through the dilemma of which door to enter. Sure it is difficult to even think of stepping in those shoes, but that does not mean those shoes are not there. There are millions with this plight, who are known as the third gender or third sex or eunuch or kinnars (sanskrit). 

Wikipedia defines the third gender as individuals who are categorized as neither man nor woman. Scrolling down a little, on that wikipedia page, I found that India has most well known and most populous third gender in the world - almost 5-6 million only in Mumbai, which is equivalent to 5 percent of its total population. 

It is believed that they have supernatural/divine power and their blessing are taken in high regards. Hence, the most well known role of the third gender is to bestow in the God's name, "the power to procreate as well as create new life for the newly born male babies and newly-wed couples." Even though, being in such high percentage of population and being considered to have divine powers, they are devoid of social status and dignity. Their main source of earning is by providing entertainment through their performance to those gathered around for the occassion. However, in recent years, due to urbanization and westernization of India, past decade has pushed them out of their homes and they are forced to beg or to prostitute, which in turn earns them disdain. These situations have created a vicious cycle of antipathy and disparagement. 

Every citizen has the right to life, the right to self expression, under constitution. The right to gender expression is inherent in it. The discrimination against the third gender is embedded in our consciousness and is aggravated by ignorance and insensitivity. Even well-meaning persons are uncomfortable if they face someone who does not fit in the Procrustean beds of “the normal”. Prabha Sridevan, former Madras High Court judge, cited a nice example in her Hindu article. She wrote, "There was an abysmal decision by our top court, the appeal Court, in the 1930s, when people of Indian origin objected to being excluded from post office counters where white people would queue. Three out of four judges could not see the problem; the applicants could be served just as well in the one queue as in the other. Only one judge, Gardiner said, ‘It touches on the dignity of people to be excluded, it's not simply a question of functionality'. The brown man will get the same postcards in the other counter. So why complain? No, it is about dignity, real dignity to all barring none."

But this invisible section of the society is gaining recognization and their fights for the equality in society is gaining victories. In 2009, this invisible section got the right to  vote and they can indicate their gender as "O" for 'others' in the electoral roles. The Argentine Senate has passed the Gender Identity Act, which recognises that the person's subjectively felt and self-defined gender may or may not correspond with the gender assigned at birth. It has been described as the most progressive and liberal in the world. Chief minister Jayalalitha has announced, destitute transgenders aged above 40 years living below poverty line to get a monthly pension of 1000 Rs. Anjali Gopalan, the infamous activists fighting for LGBTs says, "Sexuality is your own business and not others. I don’t know why people should feel so threatened at the sight of a gay or a transgender. Different gender does not mean that they are bad and cannot contribute to society. Getting people to understand this will bring about the attitudinal change.” Sarojini Bharadwaj, Chairperson of the Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC), has said the corporation has prepared a broad plan and allocated Rs 75 lakhs to bring the transgender community to the mainstream. “We have asked them to get ration card done so that they can benefit from government schemes,” she said. All these shows a small victory for the third gender. After all we are democracy and entitled to get same benefits.

However, there are still questions on their access to education and safe childhood. They are still deprived of jobs in most sectors of societies. Again, is reservation in government schools, colleges and jobs an answer to the improvement of their plight? Will we be able to see our child studying with one of the other gender? Will we have our colleagues belonging to that so called invisible gender. We don't have answers to that, but today, let's have them earn a decent life, with dignity. First, we all are human, after that we are a boy or girl or eunuch.

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