How can you ask someone not to beg or indulge in sex work, but at the same time not provide them any alternate forms of employment that can give them a livelihood? This is the question transgender activists are asking, with regard to the recently Andhra Pradesh Transgender Policy.
On December 30, 2017, the Andhra Pradesh government released the policy, outlining the various provisions and benefits it would provide to the transgender community in the state. While the policy has provisions that the community welcomes, there are many problems with it, and many issues that have been left unaddressed.
What the policy says:
- The state will launch an official ‘Transgender Pensions Scheme’, which will provide a pension of Rs 1,500 to transgender persons aged 18 and above, who are below the poverty line, provided they hand over a medical certificate.
It orders the barrier-free entry of transgender persons to hospitals and also aims to sensitise hospitals.
It orders for the police to treat complaints seriously, and asks them to ensure that workplace harassment policies in organisations are made inclusive.
The order states that there should be no discrimination in selection for employment and educational institutions.
It also asks for a grievance redressal cell to be created at the district and state level to assist transgender persons with counselling.
Apart from the pension, in terms of financial assistance, the order also says that transgender persons will be applicable for government schemes such as Aadhaar, ration card etc., as well as “Government SC / ST / BC / Minority / Differently Abled & Senior Citizens / Brahmin / Kapu Corporations subsidy linked bank loans for self-employment and schemes of educational scholarships.”
1. Financial assistance
The order states that for transgender persons to avail financial assistance, there are three conditions – for them to be below the poverty line, relinquish “begging, extortion and prostitution” and produce a medical certificate.
At first glance, the policy certainly is a positive change. However, the loopholes are hard to miss.
Speaking to TNM, trans activist Rachana Mudraboyina acknowledges that although the policy is a step in the right direction, there are many concerns that need to be addressed.
“Extortion and prostitution are derogatory terms. Calling something like begging ‘extortion’ gives it a negative colour. Begging is fine and it’s something that people have been doing traditionally, but have also been doing because of helplessness even if they are educated. They are forced to do sex work as well,” Rachana says.
“But, the government order says that the benefits that they are providing can be availed only if people stop begging and sex work… What people have been doing for years can't be left in one night. We also agree that we have to start somewhere, but it'll be a start only when every space is discrimination-free. Transphobia is everywhere,” she adds.
This sentiment is echoed by Meera Sanghamitra, who works with the National Alliance for People’s Movements. According to Meera, the three terms that have been laid down for availing financial assistance will end up excluding a large number of trans people.
“It takes time for the community to switch over to other forms of occupation. It's almost a generational thing. One can expect that if the government makes sincere efforts from now, by the next generation, there could be a substantial decrease in the number of people who are into certain forms of traditional work – be it begging or sex work. Without actually implementing (any welfare measures), putting these conditions that you have to immediately stop these things is problematic,” she says.
Even when it comes to financial assistance, the pension provided is only Rs 1,500, a minuscule amount when it comes to today’s standards of living.
“I think what the trans community would prefer is to be given jobs rather than a pension,” says biologist and trans activist Bittu Karthik.
“Nobody is dying to do jobs which are stigmatised. But if the alternative is a pension or Rs 1,500 a month, it is perfectly natural for people to prefer to work in any kind of jobs that don't put a ceiling on what they earn,” he adds.
Bittu says that the policy does have some progressive features, but needs to be strengthened.
“I don't think a handout from the state is going to be a substitute for what people have traditionally organised for themselves,” he says.
2. Medical certificates
The NALSA judgement of 2014 gave transgender persons the right to self-identification. This policy, however, despite stating that it is based on the Supreme Court order in the NALSA case, still places a requirement for medical certificates. The order does not have any clarity in terms of how the certificate will be obtained, as it has been left to the Medical and Health Department. This too has the community worried.
Saying that it violates the NALSA judgement, Meera says that there are ethical and legal concerns about this.
This point has been put forward in a consultation paper as well, which has been submitted by the community to the government in order to strengthen the policy.
“Just as cisgender persons are not subject to any medical process for gender identification, transgender persons also cannot be subject to such (constitutionally violative) procedures,” it states.
3. Budgetary provisions and grievance redressal
The policy has certain positive aspects, such as sensitising the police and hospitals, workplace sexual harassment policies, as well as asks for sensitisation for respective departments. While these are welcome, the policy doesn’t allocate any budget for the same.
In the same vein, when it promises a pension, there is no clarity on the budgetary allocation for it. Nor is there anything on how much these sensitisation programs would cost. For now, the government doesn’t even have the figure of transgender persons residing in Andhra – it still states the number of transgender people in united Andhra Pradesh prior to the state’s bifurcation.
For addressing the grievances of transgender persons, the policy states that grievance redressal cells would be created at district and state levels “to assist them with counselling for redressal of their grievances of all forms.” However, there are no details on what action would be taken against those who actually do discriminate or perpetuate violence on the community.
“High degree of violence is being perpetrated against the community, so there needs to be a body with teeth and power to actually take cognisance of violations of crime, issue directions where directions should be implementable,” says Meera.
Overall, the policy has provisions that are definitely a step in the right direction, but more work certainly needs to be done. It needs to take into account the consultations provided by members of the community.
"The policy is something that clearly aims to help and it has some progressive features. But, if it doesn't take into account the suggestions we make, it will be a poorly designed handout to the trans community rather than something that brings about structural change," Bittu says.