The Karnataka government is coming up with a social security policy for transgenders and transsexuals in the state. The policy seeks to put the community at par with the mainstream. The initiative should have attracted support and traction from within the trans community. Ironically, however, the community in Karnataka has turned into the initiative’s biggest critic.
In July, the state government set up an 11-member sub-committee to frame a policy for trans persons. The trans community had initially welcomed the move. The objective of the policy was to suggest measures for the community’s socio-economic development. It was also mandated to suggest measures to ensure employment for trans persons in the state.
The draft policy was in line with the recent progressive judgment of the Supreme Court. The judgment, among other things, declared that trans persons must be treated as a third gender for all legal purposes, and that trans persons have the right to decide whether they want to be identified as male, female or the third gender.
Besides, the court also suggested a slew of measures for their social and economic upliftment, ranging from the specific directions to operate separate hiv centres, to providing medical care in hospitals.
After the judgment, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment sent recommendations to the states to set up mechanisms to ensure that trans persons get a life of dignity. Taking a cue from the recommendations, Karnataka’s draft policy also came up with schemes for their development. Suggestions included establishment of a transgender cell, distribution of ration cards under the PDS, a monthly pension scheme for destitute trans persons, job opportunities under the MGNREGA, a grant of Rs 6 lakh for sex reassignment surgery, self-employment grant worth Rs 1.5 lakh for individuals and groups, and granting scholarships to trans children.
While on the surface the draft looks promising, trans community and activists find many of the schemes out of touch with reality.
“To begin with,” says Manohar Elavarthi, human rights and a transgender activist, “the sub-committee lacked any proper or diverse representation from the trans community. There are roughly 50,000 trans persons in the state. While framing such a policy, you need to keep in mind the voices from all the gender minorities.”
Activists also claim that clubbing of trans persons into one category does not do justice. “What about a Dalit transgender or a transgender from a religious minority? They fear some of them might not get the benefits at all as the schemes overlap,” activists claim.
Rajesh Srinivas, an activist for a sexual minorities forum, says, “Not only was the government sub-committee not adequately represented, the way it conducted itself, wherein committee members were not privy to the draft policy, raises suspicions in the community about the government’s intentions.”
Adds Danish Sheikh, an advocate who has submitted a detailed response to the draft policy to the government, “The transgender cell, as currently envisaged, lacks adequate representation, and does not include members of the transgender community or experts who work with the community. This goes against the Centre’s recommendations, which calls for establishing a a state-level body on the lines of the Tamil Nadu Aravani Welfare Board.”
He says many of the schemes have been proposed without much thought going into it. Take the case of MGNREGA — the problem stands in identifying households among trans persons. Will there be an increase in the budget? Would the trans welfare board be able to provide additional financial support to schemes? There is already a large backlog of beneficiaries under the MGNREGA. Even then, he says, in the last meeting, the committee dropped all mentions of schemes saying draft policy is more for broader recommendations.
But the most significant part, Danish says, the draft policy does not touch upon are the police atrocities. Custodial violence and rapes are faced regularly by the trans persons. However, the policy is silent on this.