India has an estimated one million transgender women or hijras. While the hijra communities here have a recorded history that goes back more than 4,000 years, harassment and discrimination are part and parcel of their everyday lives. The Supreme Court ruling last week is no minor victory, thus.
The apex court in its verdict sanctioned the third gender as a category, and asked the Centre to treat them as socially and economically backward. This judgment, if implemented properly could open up a range of opportunities for the community.
I met many hijras during my stint in Mumbai in 2014. Talking to them made me aware of just how emotionally and physically difficult and dangerous their lives can be. The hijras I spoke to explained how complicated it is for them to apply for official papers or jobs because their gender wasn’t recognised then. I spoke at length to Puja, who is an energetic and talkative hijra guru involved in the sex trade, and she told me that on an average she is raped at least 10 times every month. The graceful, Urmi, a transgender representative with The Humsafar Trust, a non-profit organisation that works with the LGBT communities in Mumbai, says, “Recognition of transgender as a third gender is not just a social or medical issue, it is a human rights issue.”
Whether it is implemented well or not, whether it changes a nation’s worldview or not, this directive is certainly a good start.
(Alison McCauley is a Geneva-based documentary photographer)