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Indian transgender people demand dignity and justice

Activists urge parliament to pass key equal rights law
Indian transgender people demand dignity and justice

In this photograph taken on May 6, an Indian transgender woman removes her ornaments during a ritual in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. (AFP PHOTO/ Anna ZIEMINSKI)

Published: July 21, 2015 10:14 AM GMT
Updated: July 21, 2015 10:29 PM GMT

Around 180 transgender people gathered in the southern Indian state of Kerala this week to demand a dignified life and an end to daily discrimination.

It comes as national parliamentarians prepare to debate long-awaited legislation that would grant equal rights to a marginalized community.

Many donning heavy makeup and colorful dresses, the transgender people were taking part in the third edition of the Transgender Fest organized by Sangama, a non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of sexual minorities.

Surya, a 23-year-old transgender activist who uses one name, told ucanews.com during the July 20 fest that most people from the community are forced to hide their sexuality for fear of discrimination.

“It is not easy to live with dignity if you declare your identity as a transgender, as our society does not yet accept the reality of a third gender,” Surya said. “If we get sick, doctors are not ready to treat us and declare us untouchables. They think that we are all HIV carriers.”

Sreekutty, a 24-year-old who works as an anchor on a local television channel, said many transgender people are pushed to the margins of society.

“We won’t get employment if we declare our sexuality. We can’t attend schools if we [identify] as third gender. This situation forces many of us to hide our sexuality,” she said.

In India, roughly 490,000 people are listed under the third gender category, according to census data.

Despite rampant discrimination in everyday life, India has been taking steps to legislate protection for the transgender community.

India’s upper house of parliament, Rajya Sabha, passed the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill in April. The bill calls for equal rights for the transgender community.

But in order to become law, the legislation must still be passed by the lower house of parliament.

Tiruchi Siva, a parliamentarian who originally moved the bill, said he hopes the lower house will pass the legislation during its current session, which started this week.

“We need to accept [transgender people] and their identity for a healthy civil society,” he said.

Advocates see the proposed legislation as a major step toward basic rights for transgender people. However, much work remains.

M A Baby, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a state legislator in Kerala, pointed out that leaders of all parties and religious groups should come forward to protect the interests of the third gender.

“When I voiced their rights, many people told me that I should not get involved with such controversial groups. It is a pity that we are not recognizing them as human beings,” Baby said.

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