At a time when Americans are arguing whether to allow transgenders to use women’s bathrooms, this Indian university is blazing a trail.
When the Supreme Court recognised the transgender community as a third gender along with male and female, it was rightly hailed as a progressive step in line with the ideals of our Constitution.
According to The Hindu, however, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has taken the spirit behind this historic judgement a step further.
As the court said in its 2014 verdict, “recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.”
The court added that, “Transgenders are also citizens of India. The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”
By virtue of this judgement, all identity documents like driving licence, passport, ration card and birth certificates would recognise the third gender.
However, we all know that progressive court judgements do not necessarily result in a change on the ground. We have legislation and judgements against many forms of discrimination, but society and the institutions that govern it are often slow to respond. This is even true of the transgender community, even though states like Kerala have introduced progressive policies for them.
Earlier this week, TISS-Mumbai took the court’s judgement a step further by becoming the first institution in India to introduce a gender-neutral hostel, which will be open to transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students from the next academic year.
On Thursday, the institute announced that the ground floor of Hostel no. 4 for women would be allotted to transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students.
At a time when the United States is arguing whether to allow transgenders to use women’s bathrooms, TISS has gone onto allot an entire section of a women’s hostel.
“We have been trying to achieve this for some time,” Professor PK Shahjahan, Dean of Students Affairs, told The Hindu. “The gender amity committee and student representatives have decided to create this space. This will be done on an experimental basis for one year, and we will take stock next year.”
However, the students at the forefront of this demand, are not celebrating yet.
“When we first saw the notification we couldn’t believe it,” said Christopher Nag, an MPhil student and a member of the TISS Queer Collective, which has actively campaigned for such spaces. “We are waiting for clarity on the rules and regulations. We don’t want this to turn into another gendered space. Our struggle is for a gender-neutral space and not for a space for a third gender.”
Nag goes onto argue that such spaces cannot have the same rules governing them, as the ones applied to a hostel for both women and men. “This is a product of several discussions and deliberations. There will be several more discussions as the hostel becomes operational,” said another student speaking to the Chennai-based publication.
Earlier this year, TISS had introduced another honorific ‘Mx’ to Mr., Mrs., Ms., and Dr. on the forms students have to fill up before their convocation.