When Raipur district administration featured Vidya Rajput in its video appealing to voters to exercise their franchise in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, it was a big step by the so-called mainstream society in gender inclusivity. "Meri ungli taiyyar hai (My finger is ready to cast vote)," Rajput exhorts voters to cast their votes in a video released by the Election Commission (above).
Rajput is a transgender activist and getting her right in the front row was a pointer to the gradually broadening social mindsets in the country. At least in Chhattisgarh, transgenders are increasingly becoming a part of the political field. Veena Sendre, 'Miss Transqueen 2018', is from the small town of Mandir Hasaud near Raipur and she joined the Congress in Chhattisgarh formally in February this year.
Madhu Kinnar, another transgender, is the mayor of Raigarh municipal corporation in Chhattisgarh.
In fact, the 2018 Assembly election in Chhattisgarh saw increased participation by transgenders in the political process with members of the community contesting elections in Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, Surajpur, Korba and Ambikapur. Although all of them lost the election, their increased acceptance in the political field was a point that was not lost on the public at large.
Credit for this increased visibility goes to transgender activists like Rajput who have persistently worked towards gaining acceptance for their community members from society at large. A big victory for Rajput and her co-activists came last year when they met the then Chief Election Commissioner of India, OP Rawat, asking him to include 'Transgender' as an option in the gender category for candidates contesting the Chhattisgarh Assembly Election. Their wish was executed by the CEC.
Activists like Rajput are increasingly working towards not only gender inclusivity but more importantly, in helping the community come out in the open about its identity. That is, after all, the first step required to bring any permanent change in society's attitude towards their existence. While according to the Census, there are 6,500 people who identify as 'transgender' in Chhattisgarh, the unofficial figure is closer to 20,000.
"Transgenders, including hijras, are a closed community and mostly live under wraps. Since nobody wants to get identified, the Census figure is always low. We are working at helping them break free of the stigma and mingle with society. Gradually, transgenders in Chhattisgarh have started participating in elections. One of our members, Veena Sendre who became Miss Transqueen last year, has joined the Congress," Rajput, who changed her name from Vikas to Vidya in 2014, told Firstpost in Raipur.
It may be noted that earlier this year, the Congress appointed Apsara Reddy as a national general secretary of the party's women's wing, the Mahila Congress. Reddy became the first transgender office-bearer of the Grand Old Party. "Congress president Rahul Gandhi expressed his sensitivity towards the transgender community by saying that everyone has the right to live, while commenting on Article 377. While the Congress in its manifesto has stated that if comes to power, the party will bring a better bill on this issue, the state BJP during the Assembly election had also promised reservation for us," she said.
None of the transgenders from Chhattisgarh have participated in the Lok Sabha polls though.
"Neither do we have the funding nor backing to contest the Lok Sabha polls at present. But, in the days to come, you will see representation from our community in the parliamentary election as well. Our next goal is to contest elections of civic bodies in the state next year in a major way. I feel whether one wins or loses, one must contest representing our community," said Rajput, who herself is not willing to participate in politics at present.
Rajput and her team organised a first-of-its-kind 'mass wedding' function in the state capital in March this year, in which 15 couples tied the knot.
"We're into sensitisation through consultation. The NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) judgment and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill are milestones in this direction. But a lot needs to be done as we're at a nascent stage. Transgenders must get their Freedom of Expression," said activist Rabina Bariha. The NALSA judgment is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which declared transgender people as the 'third gender' and affirmed that the Fundamental Rights granted under the Constitution of India will be equally applicable to transgenders. This judgment is a major step towards gender equality in the country.
The activists in Chhattisgarh want transgenders to evolve from prostitution, dancing and begging on streets to a better means of livelihood. They believe that reservation for the community would help them and political representation will go a long way in ensuring that.
"Our community is gradually becoming aware when it comes to political issues. Chhattisgarh is better than many other states when it comes to transgender rights. Here, there's a transgender board with a Rs 50-lakh annual budget. Acceptance of the community by the mainstream society is an issue of prime importance and reservation for the community will help," added Bariha, a graduate in classical music.
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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2019 16:34:15 IST