A Cabinet note moved by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recently wants transgender persons to be the central Other Backward Class (OBC) list, for reservations in higher education and in government jobs, according to reports. The OBC category has 27% reservation in most parts of the country. If this move is accepted by the government, and a law is passed to include trans persons under the OBC list, trans persons will be able to compete with OBCs for the 27% quota in education and jobs. While the move has been hailed by some sections of society, and while others see this as ‘eating into’ seats reserved for OBC castes, the affected community itself has sharply criticised the note, demanding horizontal reservation instead.
The notion of categorising transgender persons as OBCs came from the NALSA judgment of 2014. While trans communities welcomed the many progressive parts of the judgment, including the right to self identification, several members of the community have repeatedly said that a blanket OBC categorisation and reservation will not do justice to the most marginalised among trans people. Activist Grace Banu, who was recently awarded by the Tamil Nadu government for her work on transgender rights, tells TNM, “This move by the government is an eyewash in the name of reservation. If anyone is cheering, it might probably be trans persons from upper castes or classes. But, Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi (DBA) trans persons are disappointed by this note.”
In fact, activists have been seeking horizontal reservations among SC/ST/OBC categories for trans people, taking an intersectional view of their identities. Living Smile Vidya, a theatre practitioner, says that there is a certain notion that there is no caste discrimination within LGBTQI+ community, however this is not entirely true. “Most trans persons who run NGOs for queer communities belong to upper castes, while most of those who do sex work belong to OBC, BC communities, and most indulged in begging are from Dalit communities,” she explains.
“The career, lifestyle, education and earnings each one of us within the trans community experiences, largely depends on our caste backgrounds and privileges that come with it. While upper caste trans persons fight for cultural rights, DBA trans persons fight for survival and employment. That’s how different the dynamics within the community are,” she adds.
“Government should give horizontal reservation considering the population and prevalent caste hierarchies in the society. Only then it is truly intersectional and uplifting for trans persons everywhere,” Vidya says, adding that the government must also set up an expert committee to study the actual needs of the community before rolling out reservation. “Reservation is a must. But, a committee must be formed with trans persons from all castes, and stronger voices including a member from the legal fraternity, to study the reservation and its benefits,” she explains, adding that a blanket OBC reservation will not only make DBA trans persons compete with upper caste trans persons, but also with cisgender men and women.
“Reservation means representation of oppressed castes. But, the government's move of shoving everyone under OBC category is injustice. The BJP government is working against reservation, which is evident through this move,” Grace Banu says.
In a Twitter thread, activist Gee Imaan Semmalar also said that a blanket reservation for the community will give undue advantage to some. “Trans people like everyone else are from diverse caste backgrounds. For the past many years, many trans people across castes have agitated for horizontal reservations instead of a blanket OBC category, which will give trans people with caste privilege like me undue advantages,” he said.
However, Gee also noted that seeing this move as a conspiracy against OBCs, or a ‘dilution’ of OBC reservations, is problematic. “To say that this "granting" of OBC reservations is a conspiracy and couching your critique in transphobia against "hijras" across caste who will eat into this quota, presumes that the current government favours trans people. [It] erases the public discourse and activism we have built, and betrays a lack of understanding of trans experiences across caste. This is not the same as the cis women's reservation issue, where the critique is well placed to argue dominant caste women will grab seats to exclude Dalit cis men and cis women from taking political power,” Gee explained.
“If that were true, trans people who are caste privileged would be in positions of power already, like caste privileged cis women and men. Where are they?” he asked.
“Trans people within a caste cannot compete with cis people within that caste because of disadvantages. Trans people across castes cannot compete with each other because we have different privileges and social disabilities due to our caste positions. This is the ISSUE,” he said.