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Trans identity crises

Officialdom treats transgender requests with scant regard for the laws which have been put in place to ensure they do not suffer any discrimination

“To introduce myself and explain that this is my previous identity and this is my current identity is painful task,” says Ritwik, 22, a BTech student and a trans man while talking about his sexuality.

Ritwik is among the many transgender and transexual people who deal with societal exclusion and inequality on a daily basis. Matters came to a head when he went to apply for a passport.

At the passport office in Delhi, the officer in charge asked him to show the SRS or sex reassignment surgery certificate. Ritwik has not yet undergone a surgery and couldn’t produce the certificate. They refused to proceed with his application, citing lack of a certificate.

“Their whole approach was so medically oriented. Is the certificate the only proof of my sexual identity?” asks Ritwik. Wholly disappointed, Ritwik returned to his home in Greater Noida and carried on with his life.

He points out that some officials also ask for at least one certificate for the procedures undertaken. There are three surgeries which a transgender man or woman has to go through in order to achieve the desired results.

Currently, Ritwik is going for transgender hormone therapy and planning to go for the surgery in December this year. However, he says that is his choice. “But to be asked for a certificate to get an official document like passport or Aadhar is an act of discriminatory behaviour towards an individual,” he added.

Even during his visit to the Gazette of India office, he was surprised by the reactions the officials showed. “They were wondering why so many people are coming to change their identity in the documents. They had no idea about the judgment either,” added Ritwik. He admits that his case was processed smoothly as they had the strength of numbers.

The National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India, also called ‘NALSA judgment’ by the Supreme Court of India in 2014, declared that transgender people will have a right to self-identification of their gender as male, female or third gender, as they like. It also stated that insisting on SRS or hormonal therapy as a condition for changing one’s gender is illegal.

However, after speaking to a few transgender and transsexual people, the ground reality comes through in all its stark reality, showing that laws are nowhere close to being followed.

“One has to have three documents consisting of two certificate from mental health experts and one from the surgeon stating the person was eligible for the surgery,” says Amrita Sarkar, an activist and a trans woman.

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Sarkar is the secretary of IRGT— a global network of trans women and HIV. She currently lives in Delhi and works in the area of transgender advocacy.

While she finally got her gender affirmation surgery, it was a long time since childhood to come to terms with her identity because of societal pressure and stigmas.

Sarkar herself was asked by the officials at the Gazette of India office to submit each report of the SRS operation along with the HIV report. Although she is not HIV positive, she says some people who are may have a problem admitting the fact.

While she was applying for a passport in April 2018 to go for an event in Amsterdam, she was asked to even give an advertisement in a national daily and a local newspaper declaring that she has undergone a surgery. She says this is appalling behaviour. Unfortunately, most of the transgender people go through it.

“If a trans woman wants to identify as a trans woman, the problem is not as bad as when you want to identify yourself as a female on the official documents,” says Sarkar. She says then the urge to ask for a certificate arises.

She says even the officials at the passport office were not aware of the NALSA judgment and were so uncooperative that they declined the copy of the SRS certificate and asked for the original document. She had to get in touch with her surgeon again, as the original document was submitted at the Gazette office.

All this is not required in the first place, according to the NALSA judgment. She says a woman whose case she dealing with faced a similar problem — rejection due to her gender identity. After showing the various documents and following the protocols she was given the visa. It took a long time and according to Sarkar was “a real headache.”

She also pointed out that in states like Tamil Nadu and several others, a screening committee consisting of a medical officer, psychologist or psychiatrist, a transgender person and a government official would decide the self-perceived identity of a transgender person. Sarkar says she even heard of a process where a person’s genitals were touched to see if there was arousal. This was clearly a violation of privacy.

The committee which largely lets a person avail entitlements is one thing, but Sarkar says “to identify a person practising such ways which crushes the human dignity is not acceptable.”

For Sandeepta, an animation student and a trans woman from Kolkata, the case was similar. She was asked for the certificate but she refused to provide it.

“They had no idea about the NALSA judgment and I had to explain it to them,” says Sandeepta.
She then contacted the media, and told her story in a national daily. Promptly, she got a call from the passport officer in Kolkata who conceded that no such certificate is required. She got the passport in 15 days.

That was not the case with Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, 38, an activist and a trans woman who too thinks that the government order is not being institutionalised at the ground level. It took her two years to get her name changed by the Gazette office after the NALSA judgement came out.

“They ask whether there’s a government policy. In most of the cases, they will not even help you. They will say Raasta naapo or Tum jaise log yaha nahi aa sakte,” says Mogli.

She raises the plight of trans people with multiple marginalisation such as being differently abled or belong to the lower caste according to the societal caste system.

She says because a person may undergo a surgery and get new set of documents with a new gender identification, the problem might double when applying for a job. Because there will be no linkage with the school certificates and the current set of documents with the new identity.

According to Ikshaku, a queer lawyer and a drag artist, the Transgender Persons Bill 2016 had earlier made it mandatory for any organisation employing 100 or more persons to designate an official to examine complaints of discrimination and other grievances. The government has modified this and removed the limit of 100 persons to include all organisations and institutions.

“I feel no the current provisions are definitely not clear enough. This would ideally be fixed by including transgender groups and committees in the framing and making of these laws,” he says.

According to him, the broader umbrella of transgender people is clearly problematic because ‘proving’ an identity should not be a condition for accessing rights and reservations. It is the focus on gender identity rather than sexual identity that should matter to the legal institutions.