Slow But Steady: how Kerala’s Transgender Policy has helped the Trans Community

‘The Transgender policy introduced by the Government of Kerala opened up so many avenues for our community. It made our lives significantly better and easier.” – Janmoni Das

Historically, the culture in the Indian subcontinent, including its diverse mythology and religious spaces featured a considerable representation of the transgender community. The reality, however, for the much-ostracized community has been tragic to say the least. The plight of the transgender community in India was no different in Kerala, the ‘God’s Own Country’. But the State of Kerala has made significant and measurable progress towards uplifting the transgender community in India, making it one of the better transgender-friendly places in the subcontinent. The ‘State Policy for Transgenders in Kerala’ introduced in 2015 was a revolutionary step in the direction. Being the first of its kind in the country, the policy was aimed at protecting transgender rights and supporting the community in their socio-economic upliftment.

The noteworthy initiatives of the policy include financial aid for sex reassignment surgery, financial aid and reservation for students, vocational training in the fields of their choice, and a pension plan for those above the age of 55. An option to avail a loan up to Rs. 3 lakhs with an aim to provide them with self-employment opportunities is another key feature of the policy. Furthermore, the policy made it mandatory for all government forms to have inclusive options for choosing gender identity, and the issuance of a Government ID card mentioning the same. It ensured that there was legal recognition for their gender identity. On paper, this has been one of the best drafted State policies aimed at social justice and inclusion of the community. 

Employment and financial independence have been a long withstanding issue for the community. The provision of jobs at the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) came as a ray of hope and belief to address the issue. At its initiation, 23 transgender workers had taken up working at KMRL. However, many are said to have quit almost immediately, citing challenges in accommodation, poor salary and the social stigma surrounding them. 

‘Conversion therapy’, a practice that aims at suppressing a person’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation, continues to be a widespread practice in the state. There have been several reported cases of people being forced by their family into conversion therapy and being overdosed with medication for the same. To combat the practice, the Kerala High Court in December 2021 ordered the Kerala Government to form stringent guidelines against the practice. However there has been no significant update on the same as the matter still lags in the Court.

The last Government conducted Transgender Survey was in the year 2014-15. As per the survey conducted, 100% of them have had at least one experience of being denied a job due to their gender identity. Only 11.6% were said to have regular jobs with 54% of the respondents earning less than Rs. 5,000 per month. As per the survey, 96% do not raise complaints against violence because of their gender identity which is a distressing statistic to say the least.  

Earlier this year, a teacher with a dual master’s degree approached the court seeking euthanasia, as she was unable to sustain employment owing to their gender identity and the constant harassment from co-workers. Eventually, it required an intervention from Kerala’s Education Minister to ensure that she was reinstated at her job. Harassment by all, particularly the law enforcement agencies, must be eliminated and there need to be stringent laws against it. There also needs to be further effort to provide a safe environment to the community. The provision of a job alone is insufficient if the employee is not treated with dignity and respect at the workplace. Discriminatory hiring practices are a reason why several members of the community still resort to sex work to make ends meet. The introduction of an inclusive policy is always a welcome initiative. However, equal opportunity still continues to be the quest and fight for the community. 

Referred to as the ‘Queen of Make-up’, celebrity artist Janmoni Das is a visible success story to have come out of the state. Having shifted from Assam to Kerala as a teenager, she shares her immense gratitude to the Government of Kerala. “The people of Kerala have loved me and accepted me as one of their own. The State has constantly offered societal support and financial aid to us, as promised.”, she says. While it may be far from rosy and there remain challenges, she notes that the situation is getting better compared to the other places in India.

As of 2022, the Kerala Government as part of the National Health Mission, has launched an awareness campaign named ‘Idam’. ‘Idam’ which translates into ‘space’, aims at providing equality in healthcare access to the community and ensuring that all general hospitals in the state are transgender friendly. Further, the Government has also initiated measures to induct the community into the police force of the State. While this is still in the budding stage, it is a monumental step for the transgender community in the state. Kerala’s transgender reservation has also aided exceptional talent such as Nadira Mehrin, who became Kerala’s first transwoman to enroll for second PG course.

Seven years later, while a lot has been achieved, the road to equality and justice continues to be a long one for the transgender community. However, the air of optimism has never been stronger for the community. With policies that represent the progressive attitude the State wants to adopt, and the widespread support received by them across different governments, it is fair to say that Kerala is definitely on the right road in improving the lives of its trans population.

The implementation of a nationwide policy requires wide-reaching research and effort. Steps need to be taken to provide the community with a sense of belonging and ensure that social justice is served. The policy implemented in Kerala can serve as a great example to draft a ‘National Transgender Policy’. A Government initiative can go a long way in developing progressive and inclusive attitudes in the society.

Note: Quotes from Janmoni Das obtained from a direct discussion.

About Aishwarya Ajith

Aishwarya Ajith is a Financial Consultant working in Bahrain. She is extremely passionate about public policy and social impact with a focus on caste inequality, women empowerment, and trans rights.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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