Ridiculed by the society and shunned by family members, Priya left her home located in a hamlet of Tinsukia district in Upper Assam, around 480 km from state capital Dispur, when she was 10 and settled with the transgender community in Guwahati. She was fortunate enough to be trained as a beautician and then get a job at a city unisex parlour. However, her struggle to find a place in the society continued as her ‘transgender identity’ for which she was rejected by all, has once again surfaced to become her biggest challenge.
Despite having applied her name for an inclusion in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is currently being updated in Assam, under the direct monitoring of the Supreme Court, Priya was among the 20,000 others left out from the final NRC draft list who failed to furnish their ‘legacy documents’ to prove that they are a domicile of the state.
“First the society labelled us as ‘Hijra’ and now ‘illegal citizens’. Do you think, the people who had shunned me for who I am then, are going to accept me as their children? Isn’t it funny? How can I furnish a legacy document to prove that my parents are ‘Indian’? Many of us must have also forgotten our parents’ names for sure. But does it mean we are illegal citizens? I’m an Indian,” she cried.
To make it to Assam NRC, one has to prove that one's parents have lived in Assam before 1971. This is done via 'legacy linkage', which is a difficult task for the transgender community since most of their families have cut ties with them a long time ago.
But Swati Bidhan Baruah, who is a transgender activist and lawyer who is also the founder of All Assam Transgender Association (AATA), says hope is still there. Swati, who had recently become the state’s first transgender judge in a Lok Adalat in the court of Kamrup (Metropolitan) District and Sessions Judge Court, has recently brought the plight of the transgender community people in Assam before the Supreme Court. The apex court has taken the matter up and already asked the NRC authorities to reply to it.
“The Supreme Court has asked the NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela to place the data before it in the next hearing set for 28 August,” said Swati adding, “We are hopeful since it was the Supreme Court that was the first in the country to have addressed the issues of transgender rights.”
The Supreme Court in 2014 had delivered a landmark verdict, directing the states to recognise the gender identity of transgender people and ensure that they are given entitlements and benefits.
In her petition, Swati prayed to modify the updation process with special respect to transgender individuals, who were separated from their biological families and have no access to documents. “Though, the application form for ‘updation of the NRC’ permits an individual to enter their sex as ‘Male’, ‘Female’ or ‘Other’, the documents required for participating in this process were such that it was virtually impossible for members of the transgender community to participate in this process, thereby violating their fundamental rights. There has to be certain exceptions and relaxation for the marginalised section of people,” said the activist who is also the petitioner.
Swati added further, “Details of ancestors such as ‘legacy data’ are central to the process of application. It is extremely difficult for a transgender individual to have access to such information, considering they are abandoned by their families at a very young age, and social exclusion causes them to live a marginalised life.”
Pointing out another major problem especially linked with the transgender community, the petition further added that several members of the transgender community faced a major problem because of their ‘names’. Because the names assigned to them at birth also do not match the names that they assumed subsequently in life. “Often the documentation available with the individual contains such a name assigned at birth, creating further complications for the individual,” Swati pointed out.
While asked on any possible suggestions from the petitioner’s side to ease the process for the transgender community, Swati said, “Given that many members of the community live outside of the mainstream, away from their biological families, with very little access to education and avenues of livelihood that are formal or regulated, they have a genuine difficulty with access to documentation. A process would have to be devised, for the collection of the requisite information from the biological families by an agency of the state, if the individual is in a position to identify the family."
“However, there may be instances where an individual will be unable to identify the biological family or the family may deny any association with the individual due to the stigma associated with members of the transgender community. In these cases, reliance may have to be placed on self-certification by the individual. Thus, for the purpose of updating the NRC, depending on the facts of each case, the transgender individual may be permitted to provide affidavits to the effect,” she suggested further.
The AATA alleged that the NRC authority has cheated them as the latter had earlier assured the community of considering their prayers and do the needful. However, the authorities have allegedly completely overlooked the matter resulting in the mass exclusion of the transgender community people. As per the 2011 census, there are 11,374 transgender persons in Assam.
In its last hearing of the petition on 16 August, the Supreme Court sought a report (in sealed cover) from the NRC authorities on the district-wise percentage of the population that was left out of the final draft to better understand the issue. The home ministry, in consultation with the Assam government, had submitted a proposed standard operating procedure (SOP) for filing claims and objections regarding the draft NRC before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court also asked the Assam Public Works (main petitioner of the case), Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, an indigenous people’s organisation, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Progressive), Indigenous Tribal People’s Federation, All Assam Bhojpuri Parishad, Joint Action Committee for Bengali Refugees, All Assam Minority Students Union and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind to submit their views on the SOP.
In the SOP, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the Centre proposes to include Indian citizens who are not from Bangladesh and who moved to Assam from other parts of the country before or on 24 March, 1971 in the NRC if their citizenship is proved beyond reasonable doubt. The final Draft NRC for Assam published last month excluded around 12 percent of Assam’s population. In the final draft NRC out of 3.29 crore people in Assam, names of 2.89 crore had been included while 40,70,707 people could not make it to the register.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
Updated Date: Aug 28, 2018 18:18 PM