Kolkata transwoman's passport application rejected: Incident highlights low awareness of trans rights
Born male, but identifying as female, Sandeepta Das' passport application was rejected by an official, allegedly on the grounds that she hadn't undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery
The passport application of a 27-year-old trans woman in Kolkata was turned down by the Kolkata Passport Office, allegedly due to her gender. Sandeepta Das, an entrepreneur, said she was ridiculed in the presence of other visitors by the officials at the passport office, and harassed for stating her gender as 'female' on the application form. The incident took place on Monday, 19 February 2018.
"The designated Assistant Passport Officer told me, 'I am not aware of these [referring to the rules and regulations pertaining to LGBT individuals], I cannot approve your application'," Sandeepta told Firstpost.
On 17 February, Sandeepta filled the online form and received an appointment for the 19th, at the EM Bypass Passport Office. When it was her turn, the official who went through her documents said she would not get a passport.
Sandeepta says she was taken aback as she had all her ID proof in place — Voter, Aadhaar and PAN cards, and affidavits — which stated her gender as 'female'.
The official reportedly wrote on her form: "Rejected for not having SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) report".
"It is just not about gender identity but my rights as a human being. A transgender individual has the right to choose whether they feel like a male or female. I feel like a female; thus, I did not tick the 'third gender' box (on my form). Even after having all the documents, including the affidavit, newspaper ads, my application was turned down," Sandeepta said, adding, "I have not undergone sex reassignment surgery, where do I get the papers from?"
Since the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 is yet to be passed, the National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India verdict, 2014, passed by the Supreme Court of India (which declared transpeople to be a 'third gender', affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution were applicable to them, and bestowed the right to self-identify as male, female or third-gender) details the rights of the transgender individuals.
Sandeepta says that she tried to explain the provisions of the NALSA verdict to the officials at the passport office, but was not heeded. "I tried my utmost to make them understand that the reason they cited is not valid. My birth certificate will always identify me as 'male' but it is not necessary for a transperson to undergo surgery to choose her gender. I expected this was basic knowledge the officials would have. Far from acknowledging the facts, they treated me rather rudely," Sandeepta said.
When Firstpost reached out to regional passport officer Bibhuti Bhushan Kumar, he said, "It definitely should not have happened. I will look into the matter and we'll identify the officers who rejected the application."
Kumar denied that the staff at the passport office were lacking in gender awareness. "The staff are up-to-date with the rules and regulations. This must have been an exceptional case. I cannot comment on why and how she was ridiculed or harassed for her gender identity until I get to the root of the issue."
Meanwhile, Sandeepta has approached her lawyer and they're prepared to move the High Court if needed. "I am also writing an official complaint letter to the Passport Seva Redressal," she said.
Kolkata's LGBT community expressed solidarity with Sandeepta after the incident.
"There are thousands of underprivileged trans people in the state as well in the country who face this every single day. I know so many of them who were denied voter IDs, Aadhaar and PAN cards because of their gender identity," said Ranjita Sinha from the Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal.
Ranjita said that she had faced a similar situation when applying for a passport: as the officials did not allow her to state her preferred gender identity, she had to put down 'male'. Ranjita, who is a member of the State Transgender Development Board, makes a case for the board to be more active in looking into these matters. "It is not about one Sandeepta or Ranjita, this is about the whole community and our basic rights," she said.
Queer activist Raina Roy has her own account of the troubles she faced when trying to register for an Aadhaar card made. "Denials, rejections have become an inevitable part of our lives," Raina told Firstpost. "The most common thing you hear from people that 'they are unaware, they don't know what the process is'. Now Sandeepta might be asked to follow a number of rules and protocols and file a complaint and get through 10 other complex official webs (sic), but where's the end? Resolving this one matter doesn't change the scenario."
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