UP Polls: Can State With Highest Trans Population Get Them to Come Out and Vote?
"I have a vote card. But I have not voted till now." The Quint speaks to UP transwomen ahead of polls.
When 28-year-old trans woman Sukanya Devi stood in line to vote in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections from an Assembly constituency in Prayagraj, she became the centre of attention at the poll booth.
From murmurs and unwarranted stares to the polling official's confusion over the queue she should be a part of, Devi didn't feel welcome. She quietly left the booth – without casting her vote.
"I did not want to vote. I will vote when the society actually makes me feel that I am a part of it. I am a proud person, and will not stay in a place I am not welcome."Sukanya Devi, a trans woman
Devi did not return to the booth in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and says she will "most probably" not vote in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
In the last state Assembly elections in 2017, at least 7,292 people were registered as transgender persons. Of this, just 277 – or 3.8 percent of them – came out to cast their ballot, data from the the Election Commission (EC) revealed.
Lack of respect and motivation are forcing members of the community to sit out of the electoral process.
'Fear Questions at Booth'
Shanti (name changed), who is associated with the Uttar Pradesh chapter of Kinnar Akhara, tells The Quint that members of the community are "disrespected" every step of the way.
"I have a vote card. Some of us got it made in 2016. But I have not voted till now. I fear some questions will be asked. I do not want to be stopped because that's what I have experienced every time I take a train or bus to travel or even when I visit a bank," she says.
Shanti's adopted sister Pinky, who also got her voter ID at the same time, says that she voted in the 2017 Assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but only because of her resolve.
"The officers look at you with suspicion. They think you have come there to create a ruckus. On my ID, I have gender as female, but I have hijra next to my name. So, why do they ask me so many questions?" she asks.
'What's the Motivation to Vote?'
As per the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of people who identify as 'others' – 1,37,465 in total. But trans rights activists say the actual number would at least be five times.
Of this, if the state has only 7,292 people as registered voters, it only affirms that the community is not only neglected, but also not even considered a vote bank – which is a failure of the system.
Medical professional and activist Dr Aqsa Shaikh pointed that while a majority trans persons who belong to the hijra or kinnar community would identify with the 'other' option, along with those who do not conform to binary genders, many would want to identify with their desired gender.
"I want to stress that within the hijra community, electoral awareness is very poor. There is no motivation for them to vote. They have never been catered to, never been made to feel inclusive. No one cares, no one asks them to come out and vote. For them, nothing is going to change. So, what's the motivation to come out and vote?" Dr Shaikh asked.
"We want jobs and we want to live with dignity. These two things are basic. But no matter which party comes to power, we know that this is not going to be addressed. So, why should we vote? But I would urge everyone to get a voter ID. It is very useful," Devi added.
The Challenge of Getting a Voter ID
For those applying under ‘others’, they need to fill Form 6 available on the EC's website or at a local election office, along with providing their residence proof. On verification, a voter ID will be issued.
"If a person is applying after sex reassignment surgery... and they were earlier listed as a male voter and want to be identified as a female voter, they need a medical declaration along with other documents," an EC official in the state tells The Quint.
While transgender persons were granted recognition by the Supreme Court in 2014, via the landmark NALSA judgement, getting a legal identity with their desired name and gender, remains one of the biggest challenges to the community.
"To get a voter ID, you already need a government ID with your preferred name and gender. This is the biggest challenge. Most trans persons have just one ID. A few may have multiple IDs to prevent them from losing eligibility to property or insurance procured in their dead name, but we just don't have nuanced laws that addresses such things."Deep Chander, Community Empowerment Trust that works for trans voters in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh
'EC Must Simplify Process'
Dr Shaikh says that onus on voting should not be put on the community, but the EC to make the process more inclusive and create awareness about the power of voting.
"I have no hope that political parties will do anything. For them, the community is irrelevant. But the state EC has constitutional responsibility to encourage those who are eligible from the community and register to vote. This is not just for the trans community, but everyone who is disadvantaged in the society," she says.
According to Chander, the following steps should be undertaken:
Sensitising officers and teachers who are normally officiating the booths to be inclusive
Create awareness among those belonging to the hijra community about the value of vote
Make the offline process of registering for vote a hassle-free process
"Some EC officials allow members of the hijra community to use their Guru's names, instead of the parents, while others create an issue. This process could be made simpler," says Chander.
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