What’s Your Pronoun?

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The transgendered have voting rights, but only on paper. They remain politically ostracised, finds Neha Dixit

Queer Pride A female kinnar displays her voter ID card with her official gender
Queer Pride A female kinnar displays her voter ID card with her official gender

THERE IS a curious incongruity to Vote 2009 that no political party is bothered to address. Perhaps it’s not worth their time because it concerns such a small segment of voters. Only about twelve lakh to be precise. The kinnars — a more respectable term for the transgendered, commonly known as hijras — were given the right to vote in 1994 but fifteen years and five general elections later, they still face severe official discrimination.

Ask Bijli, a kinnar who lives near Old Delhi’s Rajendra Market and she says, “Election officers were confused and asked us what our ‘real’ names were. They wanted to know our male names.” Bijli’s voter ID card says she is a man called Mahesh. She will not vote in the Lok Sabha election because, she says, “it’s useless.”

In a country run by vote bank politics this sexual minority has little chance of being politically wooed.

In a desperate attempt at recognition, the kinnars moved the Supreme Court on January 20, seeking their right to educational, social and political rehabilitation. The petition filed by Sonam Singh, a kinnar from Ajmer, sought direction to the union government to constitute a National Kinnar Commission on the lines of those for dalits, tribals, minorities and women. But in February the court dismissed the plea and directed Singh to approach the Home Ministry, where the matter is still ‘under consideration’.

This is what hurts the kinnars the most. They cannot plug into the political system because of acute social ostracisation. Take the example of Prema, 40, who was born as Prem in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh and studied till Class 12. Though she has lived in Delhi for 25 years, she has never had a stable job. “My first job was that of a waiter in a hotel. In a few weeks, the manager figured out that I was a kinnar and threw me out, saying that the customers objected to my serving food.” She has since been fired from several jobs for the same reasons. She completely distrusts the system. She has now reached a stage where she says, “Nothing will change if I vote.”

‘Election officers are confused and ask us what our male names are,’ says Bijli

Some, like Prema, tried to become a part of the system by standing for elections. It was yet another attempt at changing their lives. Three kinnars were elected to public office including Shabnam ‘Mausi’ Bano, who was the first amongst them. She won the byelection from the Sohagpur assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh in 2000 as an independent. Hope was, however, shortlived because she lost the subsequent election. Again, on September 7, 2002, Kamla Jaan, the kinnar mayor of Katni in Madhya Pradesh was unseated by the High Court after serving three years in office over a disagreement about her gender. The court held her election was illegal since she won a seat which was reserved for women but had registered herself as a man. Similarly, in May 2003, Asha Devi, the kinnar mayor of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh was unseated by a local court after one year in office on the same grounds. She had registered under her male name Amarnath for this constituency which was reserved for women. In the current run up to the polls, no kinnar candidate is reportedly contesting. In the cruel absence of any help, kinnarsare not sure where to turn to. They do not want to be ‘outed’; they hate being forcibly slotted as ‘male’ or ‘female’ but see no door halfopen. Malti, an NGO worker who has been taking up their cause, says, “Many clients tell me they are frequently raped by men and hesitate to reveal who they are.’’ When it comes to the kinnars, their voice doesn’t count, and nor do their votes.

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