Posted On October 27, 2021

“Yeh daag daag ujaala!”

A few years ago, when I still used to read newspapers to feel close to my late nana ji (maternal grandfather), I came across an editorial. It was a Hindi newspaper and the editorial was titled, “yeh daag daag ujala,” meaning twinkling lights in the night sky.

By JYOTI SINGH in Cake, Caste and Identity,

The article though, being about malnourishment, is not relevant today. After all, the World Hunger Index is just an opinion poll for us, apparently. No! Here, I want to focus on just the headline. This phrase perfectly sums up the lives of the trans community in India.

Trans people are like those stars which burn bright, like diamonds, against what seems like a vast, and the never-ending stretch of the night—the night needs to pass before the dawn breaks.

And, what better way to highlight this reality, if not the new cabinet note moved by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE).

The ministry wants the reservation of the transgender community to fall under the other backward castes (OBC) category. This has been met with protests from both: trans and OBC communities.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The groundwork of trans rights was laid after years of hard work by trans activists. This was documented in the landmark NALSA judgement in 2014, where the Supreme Court of India affirmed the right of every Indian citizen to choose their own gender identity i.e., the right to self-determination.

Reservations and positive discrimination, for the representation and empowerment of trans people, was also a major highlight of the judgement. It’s been seven years since the judgement.

The government managed to pass a regressive law based on it but failed to mention affirmative action in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.

It could have been a straightforward law and an Act that focuses on the needs of trans people. But, what it has done instead is manage to land itself in a mess.

The idea was to bridge the gap between trans and cis (or non-trans) people. “Horizontal reservations” would have been a massive step forward. This has been repeated over and over again by various trans activists across the country.

Vertical And Horizontal Reservations

“Vertical reservation” refers to the reservation given to people from scheduled castes (SC), scheduled tribes (ST) and OBCs. It applies separately for each of these groups, specified under the law.

On the other hand, “horizontal reservation” refers to the equal opportunity provided to other categories of beneficiaries, such as women, veterans, the transgender community, and individuals with disabilities etc.—cutting through the vertical categories.

The horizontal quota is applied separately to each vertical category, and not across the board.

For e.g., if trans people have a 50% horizontal quota, then half of the selected candidates will have to necessarily be trans people in each vertical quota category i.e., half of all selected SC candidates will have to be trans people, half of the general category will have to be trans people, so on and so forth.

The issue with lumping the trans community with OBCs is that it completely overlooks the Dalit, Bahujan adivasi (DBA) part of the trans community. By doing so, it glosses over the intricacies of intersectionality.

What About DBA Trans People?

The overlap of transphobia and caste-class discrimination gives rise to multiple sections of trans people who face different kinds of discrimination: from within the trans community based on caste lines; and from cisgender (or non-transgender) people based on their trans identity.

Equating the two amounts to ignoring caste-based oppression within trans people and homogenizing their origins.

Trans people come from various communities: Dalit-Bahujan and Savarna communities. While they might all face discrimination for being trans, it is important to note that the ones from Savarna castes will have more resources and opportunities, than their Dalit-Bahujan counterparts.

I spoke to Grace Banu, an award-winning trans rights activist and engineer from Tamil Nadu. Banu emphasized the fact that most marginalised trans folks are not able to avail the benefits of government schemes.

She explained: “Not including DBA trans folk in any of the consultation committees and not taking our opinions into account, is nothing short of erasing our voices from the narrative and lawmaking.”

Grace Banu (seen here) is an award-winning trans rights activist, engineer and Dalit woman from Tamil Nadu.

She added that while it is a fact that some trans people are celebrating being included in the OBC category, most are extremely disappointed. She believes that it clearly favours the Savarnas, while putting DBA folks at a disadvantage.

“There can be no equating and erasing of differences between the Savarna and DBA folk. This can be seen from the fact that usually, the majority of trans sex workers and beggars come from SC, ST ,OBC backgrounds,” she asserted.

How Was The EWS Category Created?

Many other trans activists have emphasized that brushing over major fissures for the sake of convenience does more harm than good. It will amount to gatekeeping the majority of trans folk (those who belong to the lowest rungs of the society) from accessing resources.

While talking to a few people from OBC in Mathura, I found that discontent was a common sentiment. “Already, there are too many contenders and adding a new category would hurt our chances of upliftment,” said Vivek Chaudhary, a defence aspirant from the OBC community.

While such a problematic sentiment might arise from a completely reactionary and debauched understanding of reservations and transphobia, I believe that we have to take a long and hard look at the right-wing government of our nation.

We need to understand that this does not arise from the government’s supposed favouring of trans people. Rather, the reluctance of the government to empower trans people arises from it’s frankly transphobic and pro-Savarna policies.

It is not as if that the government can’t or doesn’t know how to create new categories and implement them. The economically weaker section (EWS) category created last year is one (highly-contested) example of the same.

It’s Not A Favour, It’s A Right

While trans activists especially from the DBA community have been at the forefront of fighting for their rights, we need to sit back and think. Why is it that every time a law is made “for” trans people, protests becomes necessary for them to get their demands heard and needs addressed?

Members from the trans community have always had to resort to protesting, as a way of getting their voices heard, in India.

Why are dialogues not held? And, if and when they are, why do they usually mostly comprise Savarna-upper class nexus? As was the case with the central committees formed for trans folk.

When, under the guise of empowerment, the establishment perpetuates unjust laws, protest becomes the only way for trans people to get their voices across.

Why is it that providing marginalised communities with better access to basic facilities (to bring them into the mainstream), is still considered a favour? Rights are not handouts!

Proper representation of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi trans folk in decision-making bodies is the only way to stop infantilising them, and reduce the apathy of the central government.

Courtesy : YKA