It has been a long and hard journey for the transgender community in India, and it took the intervention of the courts to afford them the basic dignity that every citizen in a democracy deserves.
The Karnataka cabinet recently passed the State Policy for Transgenders, which seeks to protect the community from discrimination and bring them into the mainstream.
Thanks to recognition from the government and awareness drives conducted by the Election Commission, alongside various organisations working for the community, many transgenders have gone onto register as voters, seeking better representation in matters pertaining to State policy.
Evidently, these efforts have borne fruit, with the Chief Electoral Officer’s office stating that the number of transgenders registered to vote in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections has doubled since 2013.
This year 4,552 transgenders have registered as voters, compared to 2,125 in 2013.
Speaking to The Hindu, Jagdamba, a 65-year-old transgender and former sex worker, spoke of how she will vote for the first time.
“I didn’t want to do it (sex work) anymore. I came back home to Bengaluru (from Mumbai), but my family did not accept me, so I have been living with the members of my community. I had no idea about the process of voting and was told about voter registration last month. I have finally got my card,” she told the Chennai-based publication.
Leading the efforts for transgender voter registration is activist Akkai Padmashal and her non-profit Ondede, which has worked with the Election Commission to raise awareness among the community.
A transgender herself, Akkai will cast her vote for the first time as well after registering as a female voter. “The officials have shown us demos of EVMs, and they are also helping people to register on the spot. These efforts have increased the number of registrations,” she told The Hindu.
Despite these positive developments, there are concerns among members of the transgender community about suffering ridicule and discrimination while standing in line to vote. Various organisations have requested the Election Commission to aid transgenders during the voting process.
Moreover, the progress made in voter registration does not hide the fact that it is only the beginning. Official records suggest that in the city of Bengaluru itself there are 5,000 transgenders, while the State-level figures rise to 25,000. Unofficially, activists believe that the number is much higher.
“This could be the fear of coming out due to societal discrimination. Some may also choose to register as male or female as they are more comfortable with that gender identity,” said one activist.
Having said that, it is heartening to see that the community will finally have its voice heard.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)