In Transition

On new legal support for transgender people may challenge India's affirmative-action framework

01 November 2014
Transgender activists celebrated in Delhi, a few days after the Supreme Court’s April verdict recognising third-gender status.
Chandan Khana / AFP / Gety Images
Transgender activists celebrated in Delhi, a few days after the Supreme Court’s April verdict recognising third-gender status.
Chandan Khana / AFP / Gety Images

ON 15 APRIL, the hijra activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi walked down the stairs of India’s Supreme Court, overwhelmed by what she had just heard. A division bench of Justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri had reversed a longstanding policy of actively excluding from public life those outside the male–female gender binary.

Since the colonial era, such individuals had been demeaned as eunuchs, dislodged from positions of political authority, dispossessed of their property and livelihoods, and finally criminalised. The justices sought to neutralise this legacy by recognising the fundamental right of citizens to choose their own gender. They asked the centre and the states to endorse these choices on birth certificates, passports, college application forms, ration cards, in public facilities and restrooms—in short, the range of services that gender our national belonging.

More radically, the judges insisted that elected representatives create plans to incorporate transgender people within India’s mammoth affirmative-action regime. “There is a growing recognition,” the court wrote in its judgement, “that the true measure of development of a nation is not economic growth; it is human dignity.”

Keywords: Supreme Court transgender legal support justice gender activism marginalised communities
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