Kerala broke conventional norms on 30 December 2016 when it set up India’s first transgender residential school.
Sahaj International in Kochi will serve as a skill development centre to transsexual school dropouts. Students within the transgender community will be trained under the National Open School system. The country’s first transgender school will also guide students with examinations equivalent to class 10 and 12.
It is important to realise that transgender progress in Kerala is not an overnight success – the government’s long-term initiatives are instrumental in obliterating rigid gender binaries.
A Leaf Out of God’s Own Country
The liberal governments of Kerala have always been conservative advocates of the marginalised third gender. In 2015, the Kerala government announced its Transgender Policy to end the societal prejudice towards the group. State Chief Secretary Jiji Thomas unveiled the State Policy for Transgenders in the presence of noted Bangalore-based transgender activist Akkai Padmashali.
The policy aimed to promote equal access to social and economic opportunities to the transgender community across the state. In fact, Kerala is the only state in India to have rolled out developmental initiatives for hijras or transgenders after the Supreme Court created the “third gender” status.
Even before the creation of a “third gender” by the apex court, the Department for Social Justice, Govt of Kerala had already laid a foundation stone for the Gender Park campus at Vellimadukunnu in Kozhikode District.
In 2016, the newly elected CPI-M led LDF government announced the allotment of pension to those above 60 years of age. In order to promote entrepreneurial spirit among the transgender community, the government has also launched a transport venture called ‘Gender-Taxi’ – exclusively managed by sexual minorities.
In Kerala, non-governmental pressure groups are instrumental in shaping public perception towards the transgender community. Every year since 2010, Queer Prides in Kerala are held across cities such as Trivandrum, Trissur and Ernakalum, among others. In the past, Kannur district (along the west coast of Kerala) had allocated a part of its budget towards the skill development of sexual minorities; Rs 10 lakh was provided to train the school and college dropouts.
Indian mythology adores accounts of the ‘third gender’ from the Mahabharata and tales of the Ardhanarishvara. Unfortunately, Indian society and governance seem reluctant about accepting into their fold people who do not subscribe to the binary definition of gender.
Although the Orissa and Tamil Nadu governments propagated transgender rights after the Supreme Court decision in 2014, the rest of India could probably learn a lot from God’s Own Country.
Double Standards of the Indian Constitution
Since independence in 1947, the transgender community has been subjected to human rights violations under the umbrella of the Indian Constitution. According to a survey conducted by the Kerala government, there are at least 25,000 transgender persons in Kerala – a majority of them having faced social exclusion.
The Indian Constitution provides equal rights and prohibits discrimination under Articles 14, 15 and 16. On the other hand, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code introduced in 1860 directly violates the Fundamental Rights – Articles 14, 15 and 16 – of sexual minorities.
In March 2016, Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor introduced the private member’s bill for the second time in the Lok Sabha to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, it was defeated by 58 votes of the 73 people present, with one abstaining.
(The writer is an independent scholar. He can be reached @shamant18. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)