Indian state takes a step forward for transgender rights

CNN/ Newswire | 7/16/2018, 12:56 p.m.
The southern Indian state of Kerala announced this month that it would reserve places for transgender students in the state's ...
An Indian transgender resident dances with others at an event to celebrate a Supreme Court judgement in 2014. India's highest court ruled that a person can be legally recognized as gender-neutral.

By Swati Gupta, CNN

(CNN) -- The southern Indian state of Kerala announced this month that it would reserve places for transgender students in the state's higher education institutions, a move aimed at easing their stigmatization.

The transgender community is among the most marginalized in India, with access to education and subsequently jobs mostly nonexistent, according to experts.

Kerala's move to secure places in higher education is among the first initiatives in the country to help support their progress.

But the move, which has been welcomed by the transgender community, has also been met with skepticism over its viability by activists who highlight the likely ignorance of students and faculty at these universities. Students will face discrimination along with a lack of viable accommodation options, they believe.

"If there is no access to hostels or no access to bathrooms, just like it's for disabled people, [transgender people] disappear," said Vikramaditya Sahai, a consultant with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences who is transgender.

The new policy will apply to government colleges across the state and will require two seats in every college class to be held exclusively for transgender students.

"Due to societal issues these students often have to discontinue their studies or to join other academic institutions after an academic year or after the admission process is closed," the notice says.

Social stigma involved with coming out as transgender often forces teens to run away from home or sees them disowned by their families. Some are unable to continue their education due to discrimination and humiliation from peers.

But Kerala has launched initiatives to encourage inclusivity for transgender people. Last year, authorities announced government jobs for transgender people in the state's metro system. The state has also provided welfare plans for the community.

Other states, such as Tamil Nadu in the south, have also introduced policies to help transgender people in recent years. For example, the Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board addresses social protection needs like housing, health care, income assistance and skills training. But Kerala is considered to be amongst the most progressive states in the country.

In a 2015 policy, the state government announced broader access to education, health care, social security and nondiscrimination initiatives for trans people, like legal redress against parents for child abandonment or police officials in cases of violation of human rights

Awareness and an understanding of the community are among the first steps in inclusivity, Sahai says. College professors are verbally abusive, and students follow. "Schools are horrible for trans people."

"I am very happy about the move that came from the government, but what steps have been taken for sensitization by them?" asked transgender activist and artist Kalki Subramanium of Tamil Nadu state, who is founder of the Sahodri Foundation, which works for transgender rights. "When a trans person walks in the campus, they should not be bullied. Opening the doors is important, but is it going to be peaceful, friendly and inclusive?"

Prohibiting discrimination

In 2014, the Supreme Court of India established rights of equality and equal protection for transgender people nationwide. A bill expanding the rights of the community is due to be made into law in the upcoming Parliament session beginning Wednesday.