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The third gender – why are we silent?

Being different attracts undue attention in our social arena.  Confining to norms thus comes to us naturally.  We stretch beyond limits to suit ourselves to our immediate environment.  Be it physical, attitudinal or behavioral. Now with the recent Policies of the Government for inclusive education, diversity is being accepted and nurtured.  What matters is the ‘confidence and the inner strength!’ Inclusion is about building the inner strength and mounting confidence.  It is valuing difference, immaterial of the limitations imposed due to biological conditions.

When we discuss people being different and including them in the school for the purpose of education, fortunately we have reached a stage where we think of children with disabilities.  With several Acts, Policies and programmes, we are getting sensitive to the needs of children who are different with respect to their language and cultural practices too.  But the group of people still remaining away from education and thus from participation in the society are the transgender.  We talk less of including children whose identity does not fit into the stereotypical gender norms.   Transgender people have existed since time immemorial and have been recorded in mythology and history.  Still they are treated as outcasts in the society because they are neither like men or women.  They differ in their physical appearance and personal characteristics. Transgender persons are also part of society and have equal, rights as are available to others. The discrimination based on their gender makes them one of the most disempowered and deprived groups in Indian society. India’s Supreme Court has recognized transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling.  “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.  It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities.

An individual’s gender expression is external and socially perceived. Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.  The society gives more importance to gender expression.  But from an individual’s point of view gender identity is what matters.  It is an individual’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male, female or in between.   As gender identity is internal and personally defined and it is not visible to others people in the society is not concerned about it.  In its broadest sense, transgender encompasses anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.

In India there are a host of socio – cultural groups of transgender people.  Though an accurate and reliable estimate is not available, According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people.   We need to include them in all the activities of the human field and value their contribution for an inclusive growth.  Their number does not matter, but it is recognizing them as equal member of society is the need of the hour.

India being a highly populated country with different religions, cultures, castes and languages, the third gender are an invisible minority.  The not so common identity of theirs is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.  They are discriminated in our society in all walks of life be it school or any other public place.  The glaring example for this is that public toilets and most of the applications for admission to schools, colleges and employment have only two options under gender.

According to ‘Sahodari Foundation” working for the transgender, 90% of transgender don’t complete their secondary school education.  Due to their limited academic knowledge, employers offer them menial jobs.   This forces them to leave the job and engage themselves in their stereotypical profession, though they are socially unacceptable.  Fortunately due to the efforts of some activists, scholarships are offered for those who are interested in pursuing education in colleges and universities.  This is a revolutionary step in empowering them.  Educating the transgender by providing them with skill development can change their lives for better.  Academic skills along with specific vocational skills will prepare them to take up respectable jobs and lead a independent life.  The empowered transgender persons who have made a difference in their status as writers, activists political leaders, speakers and actors are worthy of emulation.  It should guide the educationists to open the doors of schools and colleges for them and addressing their needs appropriately.

Transgender people in India have been excluded from effectively participating in social and cultural life.  A primary reason of the exclusion is perceived to be the lack of recognition of the gender status. A cruel social practice of segregating them the moment they show the characteristic of the third gender appears to be the main reason for them to stay away from school.  They are still segregated in the community, without being empowered to participate in a natural way.  Reports of harassment, violence, denial of services, and unfair treatment against transgender persons in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation have been discussed in media, for which we react empathetically and forget.

The problems faced by the Transgender community have been articulated by the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA).   In short, transgender persons are deprived of the fundamental rights available to the other two sexes i.e. male and female, and are not considered as the third sex. They are deprived of many of the rights and privileges which other persons enjoy as citizens of India. The transgender are deprived of social and cultural participation, are shunned by family and society, have only restricted access to education, health services and public spaces, restricted rights available to citizens such as right to marry, right to contest elections, right to vote, employment and livelihood opportunities and various human rights such as voting, obtaining Passport, driving license, ration card, Identity Card etc. The transgender community is treated as a legal non-entity in violation of the Constitution of India. In view of the constitutional guarantee, the transgender community is entitled to basic rights and that includes right to education. Moreover, every person must have the right to freely express their gender identity and be considered as a third sex.  The problems, faced by transgender in getting proper educational facilities must be recognized by the Ministry both at the Central and State Governments and work on much needed reform.    The Constitution provides for the fundamental right to equality, and tolerates no discrimination on the ground of sex. The Constitution also guarantees political rights and other benefits to every citizen. But the third gender continues to be excluded from getting the Constitutional rights. Since gender is taken to mean only male and female, the transgender cannot avail the benefits of Constitutional rights and avail of facilities and benefits available to the male and female genders in various fields including education.

Transgender persons must be properly documented in census. There is need for reservation in education, elections and employment both in the public and private sectors. They need to be empowered and uplifted by facilities for higher education and vocational training to upgrade their earnings and status in society so as to promote their acceptability in society. When the society sees them functioning and contributing for development, the discrimination against them can reduce.  To begin with, including them in education is the best way.

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