The formal recognition to transsexuals by the Election Commission (EC) as a special category has brought a big relief for the six million-strong community which had to compromise with its identity while exercising its right to franchise for the past 52 years.
"The EC's recent decision to formally recognise transsexuals and eunuchs as 'others' on electoral list and voter ID cards is a step forward as it has given us the basic right to vote with our own separate identity," says prominent eunuch activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.
Laxmi, a transsexual and founder of the campaign group Astitva, said, "This is the sign of maturity of our democracy. Now it is moving ahead in the direction of extending the constitutional and fundamental rights to each and every citizens of the country."
Ashok Row Kovi, who works with sexual minority groups at the UNAIDS office here, believes this was long overdue. "It was a much awaited decision. Ideally, it should have happened a long time ago. The transsexuals very well deserve equal stand and rights in the country among other citizens."
"It's good that diversities are also being accepted in our society now. This decision will also strengthen the cause of homosexuals," said Kovi who also heads Humsafar Trust.
Agreeing with him, Queer right activist Monish Kabir Malhotra said, "This is a very positive step for the community who have been on the fringes of society, ostracised and excluded. It will also help in breaking some more barriers in our society."
"But this is not enough. The government should extend this facility to every form where there is a need to identify the gender," Malhotra said.
Laxmi, who has been struggling for the uplift of the community, said, "As government allocates funds for the development of children and women, it should also provide some money for the re-establishment and rehabilitation of our community."
"We should also be given preferences and reservation in government jobs," said the activist-cum-celebrity who was invited in reality shows like Salman Khan-hosted 'Dus Ka Dum' and Rajeev Khandelval-anchored 'Sach Ka Saamna'.
Earlier, in the electoral rolls prepared by the EC, the eunuchs were registered either as male or as female and those who were unwilling to identify their gender as male or female had to abstain in elections.
However, they could write "E" for eunuch on passports and on certain government forms, but had failed in their campaign for acceptance at the ballot box.
Another queer right activist Leslie Esteves feels that the recent step will give some self respect to the transsexuals and they will learn to adjust to the mainstream with confidence.
Describing the pathetic condition of the minority community, Kovi said, "We never see a transsexual child, why? Not because they don't exist, but because they are not accepted in the society."
"Even their own families disown them, schools refuse to admit them and they are forced to run away," he said, adding, "This neglect and mistreatment lead to their marginalisation and criminalisation."
At our Trust, we try to help them by pursuing their parents not to disown them and empathies with them, he added.
Malhotra appealed to the society to give them a fair chance to lead a respectful life as they are also human beings.
"If Laxmi Tripathi, being a transsexual, is a celebrity, then others can also lead a good life if they receive support and encouragement from the government and society," Malhotra said.
EC's step will also help in determining the actual population of this community, Kovi said.
"At present, we only have a speculative number of the community which is a big hurdle in the way of implementing any welfare programme for transgenders. For example, National AIDS Control Organisation is running a programme for them but they are facing problems due to the non-availability of actual data," he said.
He said the EC's decision will also make an affirmative atmosphere for the implementation of Delhi High Court's order of decriminalising homosexuality by amending Article 377.