Assam Govt Approves Historic Transgender Policy; Welfare Schemes on the Cards
After years of struggle the transgender (TG) community found some solace as the Assam government approved the much needed welfare policy for transgenders. The policy that was drafted by the social welfare department was finally approved in the cabinet on 12th February 2020.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines transgender as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and expression does not conform to the norms and expectations traditionally associated with the sex assigned to them at birth; it includes people who are transsexual, transgender or otherwise considered gender non-conforming.”
However, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 that was passed in the Lok Sabha on 17th December, 2018 defines transgenders through a more sensitive and dignified approach: “transgender person" means a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-man or trans-woman (whether or not such person has undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery or hormone therapy or laser therapy or such other therapy), person with intersex variations, gender queer and person having such socio-cultural identities as kinner, hijra, aravani and jogta.
As per census data of 2011, the transgender community of Assam has 11,374 members including 1,348 children (in the age group of 0-6 years) and has a literacy rate of 53.69%. However, the policy states that this data could not be accepted as authentic due to various reasons.
Individuals of this community in Assam, like the other parts of the country, have been deprived of basic necessities of a dignified life.
Transgenders have been deprived of proper education on account of negligence, discrimination and humiliation by classmates and teachers. Those willing to pursue academics lack support from family and the society as a whole. As neighbourhoods do not support transgenders living amongst them, they are often constrained to establish their own settlements outside of regular communities and are forced to live in conditions that are often not conducive to their growth and personality development. They face abusive treatment and confront regular human rights violations from law enforcement personnel, government offices, hospitals, schools railway stations and in other public places.
The requirement of a policy for the welfare and upliftment of the transgender community was brought to focus in 2012 when the division bench of the Bombay High Court made a landmark judgment on Sex Reassignment Surgery (WP (L)1092 of 2012, BHC) supporting and protecting the right to undergo such surgery of Swati Bidhan Baruah, lawyer and transgender activist.
Objectives of the draft policy
The said policy aims to ameliorate the suffering of transgender persons in multiple dimensions of life.
• To provide access to educational facilities and incentivise learning through reservation of seats in institutions, making provision for separate boarding and lodging arrangements and through provision of scholarships to transgender students etc.
• To protect transgenders against destitution by ensuring a minimum standard of living and access to existing basic services like shelter and sanitation or by creating infrastructure to cater to them
• To insure transgenders against the negative consequences of shocks and risks along the lifecycle, such as health shocks through transgender specific health schemes
• To promote human capital accumulation and access to productive assets and income generating activities alongside other genders
• To raise awareness in order to empower transgender persons and provide them opportunities to exercise gender equality
• To mainstream transgender persons, who are typically excluded from public services and programs, through enforcement of rights, providing means of livelihood and inculcating mutual respect among all genders.
• To ensure non-discrimination of transgenders in any form in all spheres by public authorities and to support positive discrimination to address inequities in areas of education, health and employment.
• To raise public awareness and sensitization of transgender rights and to develop capacity of relevant stakeholders to enforce rights. Large scale sensitization needs to happen starting from the school level to see transgenders not as an aberration, but as an integral and productive component of societal life.
As such the policy makes allowance for self-certification of one’s gender identity, through an affidavit, for the purposes of registration as a transgender and for issue of an identity card.
Shelters are to be opened up for the community and non-formal basic education programs are to be provided in informal settings. Steps will also be taken to enhance mainstreaming of transgender children in the regular stream of school. Besides regular or customized health screening, free medical treatment and free medicine will be made available for transgender persons in government health facilities.
Employment exchanges will register transgenders without any discrimination and vocational training will be provided to transgenders free of cost, based on their field of interest, through existing government schemes. Self-employment grants up to a maximum of Rs 25,000 will be made available for small business entrepreneurs from the transgender communities who have undergone vocational training and monthly pension will be provided to the destitute or elderly. Further, emergency centres will be established for providing emergency relief and services.
Apart from setting up a helpdesk in the office of all District Police Superintendents, Transgender Support Units (TSU) will be established in the Directorate of Social Welfare which is the nodal department for implementation of this policy.
Support units are also to be set up at the district and state level for their welfare. Moreover, a Transgender Welfare Board will be constituted, chaired by the Minister of Social Welfare Department that will monitor and oversee the implementation of the Transgender Policy and review the work of the TSU.
Sensitization initiative will be taken and awareness spread in the form of study materials and counseling to all sections of society including schools, offices and families of the transgenders to prevent shaming and humiliation of transgenders and to change the prejudiced mindset and attitude of people towards them.
Speaking to GPlus, Swati Bidhan Baruah said, “It was a very long fight, more than 10 years. We fought many social and legal fights against the government. The community trusted and supported me all along. The outcome is a historic moment for Assam as the transgender community has got its own policy now. We are very happy and believe it is time to remove discrimination and establish transgenders as part of the society.”
It is to be mentioned that the transgender policy came into existence when Baruah filed a PIL in the Gauhati High Court in 2017, seeking its intervention for the welfare of the transgender community. The division bench directed the state government to formulate the policy in context to the NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) Judgment (2014) 5 SCC 438) of the Supreme Court.