‘I Want to Serve India’: Kerala Transwoman Wins Fight to Join NCC
Hina Haneefa has legally challenged the tri-state corps for wilfully barring her from joining its female wing.
(This article was first published on 9 February 2021. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives after Kerala HC ruled that a Transgender person is entitled to be admitted to NCC.)
Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
When Hina Haneefa joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) at 13, she was seen as a boy – the gender assigned to her at birth. Now a transwoman at 22 years, she has legally challenged the tri-state corps, the largest uniformed youth organisation in India, with a strength of 15 lakh cadets, for wilfully barring her from joining its female wing.
“When one joins the NCC, they are a cadet first and foremost. Gender should not be a factor for admission to the corps,” Haneefa, a BA History student at the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, tells The Quint.
Gender is, however, at the centre of her legal fight, which started in 2019. On 12 November, the Kerala High Court responded to a writ filed by Haneefa and passed an interim order against discrimination based on gender in the NCC.
The court has asked the college to leave one seat vacant during this year’s NCC enrolment – one which Haneefa could perhaps join if she wins the legal battle. The NCC comes under India’s Defence Ministry, making it one of the respondents in the case.
If the court favours her prayer, Haneefa’s story could set a precedent for enrolment of transgender persons in the country’s uniformed services.
In 2017, K Prathika Yashini had become the first transwoman to join Tamil Nadu’s state police force facilitated by an order of the Tamil Nadu High Court. Haneefa could also stand to represent the changing face of transgender rights movement in India, as transpersons’ right to equal opportunity in education and employment takes centre stage, apart from the community’s fight for the right to live with dignity.
Speaking to The Quint, Haneefa adds that she approached the Kerala High Court against the discriminatory Section 6 of the NCC Act-1948 because she ‘loves the corps and would like to serve the society through its rank’.
Section 6 of the Act classifies enrolment based on two genders – male and female – even though the Supreme Court of India in its landmark National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs Union of India judgment of 2014 had recognised transgender as the ‘third gender’.
The NALSA judgment in its crux gave transpersons the right to self-determine their gender as either male, female or third gender.
Three Stripes on Her Record
Haneefa was born as the only ‘brother’ to three sisters in Malapuram, a small town in Kerala. An active child who loved socialising, she was drawn to the NCC. She donned the khaki scout uniform for the first time to join the NCC’s male cadet wing.
“I was comfortable in the uniform even though I knew that I am a woman. In the men’s corps, your duties are the same as the duties given to the female corps.”Hina Haneefa
In her Class 10, she acquired an ‘A certificate’ that is given to promising cadets. A certified cadet of surgeon’s rank bearing three white stripes on her uniform, Haneefa was proud of her achievement.
In Classes 11 and 12, however, she could not join the corps because her school had no such unit. At the time, Haneefa used to attend clandestine transwomen gatherings. “I used to sneak out, change clothes on the way and attend such gatherings,” she remembers.
Haneefa came out to her orthodox Muslim family at 19 years of age.
Haneefa had acquired a Diploma in Education by then, and was fairly independent. Yet, she was forcefully kept under house arrest and was physically assaulted when she revealed her gender identity at home.
“I escaped somehow, and with the help of transwomen friends I moved to Bengaluru,” she says.
The initial years in Karnataka were difficult as the educated transwoman had to turn to begging to make a living. She managed to collect over Rs 1 lakh in two years, following which she underwent a sex reassignment surgery at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, at the age of 21 years.
In a jalsa or coming of age ceremony for transwomen, she shed her male name and along with it the remnants of her past life.
“I did not want to stay in Bengaluru any longer, and I thought that my educational qualifications will get me a better standard of living in Kerala,” she says.
Kerala’s inclusive transgender policy, which came into effect in 2015, drew her to the state.
Haneefa joined University College Thiruvananthapuram in one of the two seats reserved in the institute for transgender students. The state’s transgender policy mandates this reservation. “I was happy to see a thriving NCC unit in the college and was eager to join its ranks,” she reminisces.
When she went to enrol, the NCC Associate Officer at the college cited NCC Act 1948 and its classification of cadets as male and female to turn her down. She made two appeals – one to the NCC unit in the college and second to the Commanding Officer of NCC Thiruvananthapuram – in October 2019.
When her pleas failed to elicit a response from the NCC, she approached the Kerala High Court with a writ in November 2019.
The Legal Fight
One of her four lawyers, advocate Sudheesh Raghul, tells The Quint that Section 6 of the NCC Act violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which provides equality before the law and prevents discrimination based on gender and other social parameters.
“Hina joined the college with a transgender ID card, which mentions her gender as woman. Her gender transition is backed by both NALSA judgment and Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act-2019’s section 2(K).”Sudheesh Raghul, advocate
While questions to the NCC’s Delhi office went unanswered, the corps’ central government counsel had submitted before the Kerala High Court that, “The petitioner cannot be included in the enrolment process of NCC unit of the college…because she is a transgender, though having assigned herself the identity of woman.”
The court can ‘set the record straight’ and help the community, advocate Raghul says, because the NCC can be considered the first step towards armed service.
“The Supreme Court has recognised transgender persons and Kerala has also taken a proactive step in including transpersons in educational institutions and places of employment. The NCC, which comes under the Ministry of Defence, cannot deny them the right to be equal participants in such institutions,” says Raghul.
Based on legal precedent, this could be a long battle because gender disparities have been evident throughout the history of India’s armed services.
Haneefa, however, says she is optimistic. “There is no one to represent us. I think that my struggle will help other transgender persons to come forward and enrol in the NCC,” she says.
A practising Muslim, enrolment in the NCC is part of her everyday dua, Haneefa says enthusiastically.
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