End exclusion of transgenders

End exclusion of transgenders

Over four months after it ordered universities across the country to make infrastructure more transgender friendly, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has rapped them on the knuckles for failing to do so. It has called on them to take steps immediately to protect the rights of transgenders. Among the measures suggested is provision of separate restrooms for transgenders on campuses as this is an important factor inhibiting them from taking up higher education. In addition, the UGC has promised to fund research projects on topics related to transgenders, their identity, life and culture. This will go some way in dispelling prevailing myths about the community. Prejudice against transgenders is rampant in our society, prompting discrimination of members of the community. This is unfortunate especially since historically, Indian society has included transgenders in social and cultural life. But today they face ridicule, humiliation and isolation and are excluded from education and employment. The extent of exclusion can be gauged from the fact that in the entire country, there is only one transgender person studying in an engineering college. Discrimination against transgenders, whether for education or employment, has forced them into begging or prostitution. This, in turn, has made them vulnerable to police violence. Social ostracism and institutional exclusion has forced them to live in the shadows. The trials of this disempowered section of society could be reduced to some extent by drawing them into educational institutions.

It is only of late that India is acting to end the ill-treatment of transgenders. In April last year, the Supreme Court recognised transgender people as the third gender, enjoying all fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution. It called on the government to treat them as a socially and educationally backward class and accord them quotas for admission in educational institutions and government jobs. Implementation lagged as the Narendra Modi government raised objections to the development plan for transgenders. Meanwhile, in October 2014, the UGC followed up on the SC ruling to make universities more inclusive of transgenders. The universities’ reluctance to implement this directive has forced the UGC to reprimand them now.

Besides steps by universities to end isolation of transgenders, other agencies need to be set up to take the process further. In this regard, the Tamil Nadu government has played a pioneering role. It set up a Transgender Welfare Board which enables transgenders to access government schemes in education, employment and housing and to design for themselves new ones to suit their needs.  Other state governments should follow suit.

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