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Explained: Why Trans People Are Demanding Horizontal Reservation Across Castes

How exactly does horizontal reservation work? What is the legal battle surrounding it? We explain.

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(This story was originally published on 20 April 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives with the Madras High Court, on 9 January 2024, urging the Tamil Nadu government to consider providing 1% horizontal reservation to transgender persons in education and public employment.)

On 17 April 2023, over 15 transgender people were staging a peaceful protest near Chennai's Kalaignar Karunanidhi Memorial when they were "forcefully" detained and "manhandled" by the Chennai Police. The protesters were taken to a community hall before being released the same evening.

The protests were led by Dalit trans activist Grace Banu and the Trans Rights Now Collective, a Dalit Bahujan Adivasi collective of trans people founded by Banu.

How exactly does horizontal reservation work? What is the legal battle surrounding it? We explain.

Activist Grace Banu being detained by the Chennai Police on Monday, 17 April.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

And their demand? Horizontal reservations for the transgender community in employment and education, both at the state and central levels.

"Karunanidhi [former CM of Tamil Nadu] was one of the first supporters of the trans community. He did a lot for us. But the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] government, which claims to be trans-friendly, is not willing to give us our rights," Banu told The Quint.

How exactly does horizontal reservation work? What is the legal battle surrounding it? We explain.

Trans people protesting near the Karunanidhi Memorial in Chennai on Monday, 17 April.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Earlier in April, trans people in Delhi and Mumbai had also staged protests demanding horizontal reservations across castes.

In fact, the trans community has been fighting for the same for years – even before the NALSA judgment of 2014, which directed the central and state governments to consider providing reservations to trans persons.

So, how exactly does horizontal reservation work? Why is the trans community fighting for it? What is the legal battle surrounding horizontal reservation? We explain.

Explained: Why Trans People Are Demanding Horizontal Reservation Across Castes

  1. 1. What Is Horizontal Reservation?

    Cutting across all caste categories, horizontal reservations would mean separate reservations within each category – Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and General Category.

    In other words, a percentage of ST, SC, OBC, and General seats would be reserved for transgender people in education and employment under horizontal reservations.

    "Horizontal reservation is not a new concept. Such reservations are provided to women and people with disabilities across caste categories. Take, for instance, a Dalit trans woman. She is doubly oppressed, and therefore, she would need reservation in both categories. The lack of horizontal reservation is a denial of opportunities to trans persons," Banu argued.

    "Most of the trans people who had participated in the protest [on 17 April 2023] had appeared for various exams like the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC), Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB), and Tamil Nadu State Eligibility Test (TNSET). They are all qualified candidates but they are not getting jobs due to lack of reservation."
    Grace Banu, Dalit Transgender Activist

    In 2021, Karnataka became the first and the only state in India to provide 1 percent horizontal reservation to trans people in employment for civil services posts. This means that at least 1 percent of seats will be reserved for trans people in each caste category.

    To understand why the trans community is pushing for horizontal reservation, we must take a closer look at the existing vertical reservation system for trans people.

    Expand
  2. 2. Problems With Vertical Reservation

    "After the NALSA judgment of 2014 ruled that trans people must be given reservations, the Tamil Nadu government included the trans community in the 'Most Backward Class' or MBC category in 2017. This is very similar to the OBC category," explained Banu.

    She, however, added that MBC is treated as a separate vertical category, and that if a Dalit trans person were to get reservation from the MBC category (in the transgender quota), they would not get any SC reservation – or vice-versa.

    "Those who belong to both the SC/ST categories and the transgender community would not be able to claim their right to reservation under both categories. Moreover, trans people who already belong to the OBC category would not gain any additional benefits in the transgender quota."
    Grace Banu, Dalit Transgender Activist

    An additional problem with this mode of reservation is that trans people would have to compete with other OBCs for reservations, minimising their chances of getting a seat.

    In 2021, the Centre also moved a Cabinet note to include transgender persons in the list of OBCs.

    "But what governments need to understand is that the transgender community is not a homogenous community. Trans people come from various classes, caste, regional, and economic backgrounds. Clubbing them into one homogenous reservation category erases the experiences of Dalit-Adivasi communities. It is unjust," said Banu.

    In Kerala, too, ad-hoc reservations are provided to trans people, offering two seats in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. But it does not distinguish between the different caste identities of trans candidates, according to an article by the Centre for Law and Policy Research.

    In fact, the Karnataka government also had a similar approach when it came to providing reservations for trans people. But it had to introduce horizontal reservations after a legal battle initiated by Jeeva, an organisation advocating for the rights of trans people.

    Expand
  3. 3. The Legal Battle(s)

    According to the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Jeeva had challenged a notification for a Karnataka state police recruitment as it failed to include a category for transgender persons, in accordance with the NALSA judgment.

    As the case progressed, the state government said that it planned to offer reservations to trans people in the OBC category. But Jeeva demanded that it provide horizontal reservations across castes rather than including trans people in the OBC category, which later resulted in the amendment of the state's policy.

    Moreover, in August 2021, the Karnataka High Court instructed the government to contemplate issuing a directive to all state-owned corporations and statutory bodies to implement comparable reservations.

    Meanwhile, activists like Grace Banu have also approached courts to take the fight forward. Several petitions have been filed in multiple high courts (Delhi, Madras, Karnataka, and Rajasthan) seeking horizontal reservation for trans people in government jobs and education.

    On 27 March 2023, Banu had submitted an application to the Supreme Court requesting clarification on whether the NALSA judgment recommended horizontal or vertical reservations. However, the bench, headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, declined to hear the case.

    Banu and the Trans Right Now Collective has now launched a campaign to push for horizontal reservations. Stating that their fight is far from over, she told The Quint:

    "Both the union and state governments have welfare policies for us, but they're not willing to give us our rights. Welfare policies are one thing and rights are another thing. We can only get educational, political, and employment rights if we have horizontal reservations."

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is Horizontal Reservation?

Cutting across all caste categories, horizontal reservations would mean separate reservations within each category – Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and General Category.

In other words, a percentage of ST, SC, OBC, and General seats would be reserved for transgender people in education and employment under horizontal reservations.

"Horizontal reservation is not a new concept. Such reservations are provided to women and people with disabilities across caste categories. Take, for instance, a Dalit trans woman. She is doubly oppressed, and therefore, she would need reservation in both categories. The lack of horizontal reservation is a denial of opportunities to trans persons," Banu argued.

"Most of the trans people who had participated in the protest [on 17 April 2023] had appeared for various exams like the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC), Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB), and Tamil Nadu State Eligibility Test (TNSET). They are all qualified candidates but they are not getting jobs due to lack of reservation."
Grace Banu, Dalit Transgender Activist

In 2021, Karnataka became the first and the only state in India to provide 1 percent horizontal reservation to trans people in employment for civil services posts. This means that at least 1 percent of seats will be reserved for trans people in each caste category.

To understand why the trans community is pushing for horizontal reservation, we must take a closer look at the existing vertical reservation system for trans people.

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Problems With Vertical Reservation

"After the NALSA judgment of 2014 ruled that trans people must be given reservations, the Tamil Nadu government included the trans community in the 'Most Backward Class' or MBC category in 2017. This is very similar to the OBC category," explained Banu.

She, however, added that MBC is treated as a separate vertical category, and that if a Dalit trans person were to get reservation from the MBC category (in the transgender quota), they would not get any SC reservation – or vice-versa.

"Those who belong to both the SC/ST categories and the transgender community would not be able to claim their right to reservation under both categories. Moreover, trans people who already belong to the OBC category would not gain any additional benefits in the transgender quota."
Grace Banu, Dalit Transgender Activist

An additional problem with this mode of reservation is that trans people would have to compete with other OBCs for reservations, minimising their chances of getting a seat.

In 2021, the Centre also moved a Cabinet note to include transgender persons in the list of OBCs.

"But what governments need to understand is that the transgender community is not a homogenous community. Trans people come from various classes, caste, regional, and economic backgrounds. Clubbing them into one homogenous reservation category erases the experiences of Dalit-Adivasi communities. It is unjust," said Banu.

In Kerala, too, ad-hoc reservations are provided to trans people, offering two seats in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. But it does not distinguish between the different caste identities of trans candidates, according to an article by the Centre for Law and Policy Research.

In fact, the Karnataka government also had a similar approach when it came to providing reservations for trans people. But it had to introduce horizontal reservations after a legal battle initiated by Jeeva, an organisation advocating for the rights of trans people.

0

The Legal Battle(s)

According to the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Jeeva had challenged a notification for a Karnataka state police recruitment as it failed to include a category for transgender persons, in accordance with the NALSA judgment.

As the case progressed, the state government said that it planned to offer reservations to trans people in the OBC category. But Jeeva demanded that it provide horizontal reservations across castes rather than including trans people in the OBC category, which later resulted in the amendment of the state's policy.

Moreover, in August 2021, the Karnataka High Court instructed the government to contemplate issuing a directive to all state-owned corporations and statutory bodies to implement comparable reservations.

Meanwhile, activists like Grace Banu have also approached courts to take the fight forward. Several petitions have been filed in multiple high courts (Delhi, Madras, Karnataka, and Rajasthan) seeking horizontal reservation for trans people in government jobs and education.

On 27 March 2023, Banu had submitted an application to the Supreme Court requesting clarification on whether the NALSA judgment recommended horizontal or vertical reservations. However, the bench, headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, declined to hear the case.

Banu and the Trans Right Now Collective has now launched a campaign to push for horizontal reservations. Stating that their fight is far from over, she told The Quint:

"Both the union and state governments have welfare policies for us, but they're not willing to give us our rights. Welfare policies are one thing and rights are another thing. We can only get educational, political, and employment rights if we have horizontal reservations."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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