By Anita Cheria
Over the last 10 years the transgender community in Karnataka has been at the receiving end of different shades of attention and activity in the form of schemes and services from the state government. In the wake of the recently passed Karnataka state transgender (TG) policy, expectations are high and only matched by the urgency of community needs.
A two-day state level consultation was held on March 12 and 13, 2018 to understand the policy document its implications and the possibilities it offers to the community members. The meeting was attended by over 60 TG community leaders, representing 16 districts of Karnataka, and about 20 organisations and networks. Though there were detailed discussions and suggestions on the gaps and time excesses in the law, continuing education, housing, employment and livelihood, reservation and representation, health and medical support, this article is limited to some key overarching issues that require priority attention from the state and civil society.
Contradiction in identification and certification
Self-identification is the standard set by the SC in the NALSA judgement and is crucial to securing support with dignity as far as the community is concerned. In the present policy document, there are two separate sections that suggest two processes.
Section 2.2 Administrative set-up: Asks for submission of self-declared affidavit along with form to be submitted to the CDPO of the district, which serves as a basis to be declared as a transgender person. To issue identity cards a committee comprising CDPO, Medical officer and Tahsildar will be constituted at the taluk level and the tahsildar will issue the identity cards.
Section 3.1 Steps towards certification: Says that each application will be approved by at least four members of the transgender district cell consisting of 50% government representatives and 50% community members.
This needs immediate clarification and correction. The state and district level cells envisaged with the responsibility of identity cards should be the only criteria for all support being extended to the TG community with regard to identification. Different departments cannot have different criteria and agencies to deal with identification of beneficiaries. A clearly defined process and inter-department coordination is needed to simplify and speed up the process of updating all documents and identity cards.
Lack of clarity in role of community engagement
With regard to implementation of the policy, though the intention of community participation is articulated it needs to be more clearly defined strengthened in measurable ways. The transgender cell that is envisaged to be set up in partnership with community members at the state and district levels should be constituted to lead the process at the earliest. All sensitisation and awareness material, training programmes as well as curriculum should be decided in consultation with the community in an open and transparent process. Every possible opportunity for these tasks should be given to community-led organisations for better impact and in keeping with the policy objectives.
Transparency and accountability
Regular consultations need to be held between the community representatives and officials, both at the district and state level, to ensure that the policy objectives are reiterated and cooperation is embedded programmatically. A dedicated website that is updated in real time with all government orders, initiatives, budget allocations by departments in line with the TG policy implementation will be ideal. Separate departments could also highlight a section on budget allocations and schemes made under the policy on their own sites.
Choice of nodal agency
The policy lists the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD). This allocation seems to stem from a limited understanding of the community. The TG community is diverse, includes both transgender men and women, also those from several cultural identities that need not necessarily be equally visible. So two suggestions were made: a separate commission/ board that is more gender neutral and fully focussed on issues concerning the community or shifting this responsibility under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The drawback with a change in the nodal department is a loss of institutional memory created over the last 10 years, as all schemes and services to the TG community have been under the jurisdiction of the DWCD and the Women’s Development Corporation.
Authority is necessary
In terms of the administrative structure defined in the policy, the district nodal officer is the Deputy Director, DWCD. We suggest that the district nodal officer should minimum be the rank of CEO of Zilla Panchayat to be able to enforce and lead such a process.
Timely allocation of budget and monitoring of standards
As most schemes for ‘development’ of those facing stigma and discrimination has been in the charity space, there has no measurable change in their lives beyond the period of support. If the purpose of the scheme or service is to ensure sustainable and measurable change, there needs to be a benchmarking of the resources earmarked for the same. The Mythri pension scheme that allots Rs 600 per month for those who are 18 years of age and above is one such scheme.
Administration of schemes and services
Government officials are often not aware of the law, nor the processes involved for compliance to policy and implementation of schemes. During the administration of the Mythri scheme, for example, local officers often tell TG persons dressed in trousers and shirt to come back wearing a saree and lipstick and to shave off their moustache! Their understanding of the community is limited to the more visible saree-clad hijras who form just one section of the TG community.
Another offensive practice with government and NGO services is the tendency to link general schemes and services for the TG community to organisations working on HIV/AIDs and sex work, either programmatically or procedurally. This needs to be discouraged and delinked if the purpose of the programmes is to support inclusion with dignity.
To resolve this issue, the government could initiate a baseline study as envisaged in the policy to get a better estimation of both quantitative on qualitative aspects about the TG community so that it could go beyond the survey method to provide guidelines based on real experiences on issues of inclusion and exclusion. The current effort to update voter identity cards could be seen as a pilot effort and provide insights for future use.
When it all falls down
On January 24, 2018, a Class 8 student of the Navodaya Minorities School, KR Pete in Karnataka committed suicide. The fact-finding brought to notice that prior to the suicide, the child was beaten and humiliated by the teacher. The teacher also verbally abused her using slangs referring to her masculinity and her religion in the most derogatory way. It has also come to our notice that all staff and teachers of this school, like most other schools under similar schemes, are hired on contract. The headmistress in charge of a few schools is the only permanent employee. This is the reality we are setting ourselves to change. And this calls for a systems correction that needs wise investments and systematic monitoring, in addition to a supportive policy framework.
System and systematic corrections required
While the policy emphasises the need to sensitise all staff and teachers on gender diversity, in the education department and in schools, it does not seem to factor in that the low paid contract teachers will have a high turnover and may not be conducive to a good schooling system. Given our cultural practices, gender non-conforming children are at a great risk from their parents and teachers. Government led interventions are necessary and need to reach out to parents, teachers and doctors, to address the emotional, physical and medical well-being of the child. We need to combine awareness and sensitisation with clearly defined standards.
Childhood comes with a shelf-life and we cannot wait too long; we need to invest wisely and monitor closely to expect any lasting change. Investing in schools and teachers along with students is essential to ensure that the system works to deliver to take comfort in their gender identity, along with skills of numeracy, literacy and logic. Schools will then form a gender friendly and safe microcosm for children that can make far reaching positive changes in social inclusion practices in our presently rigid society.
In conclusion, it is important to clarify that none of the above suggestions are easy, but they are certainly possible if there is social commitment, political will and cooperation among stakeholders. Given the present pace of consultations and activities within the state government and the commitment of community leaders, there is certainly reason to hope.
Views expressed are author's own.
Anita Cheria is a partner at Openspace, a campaign support organisation, that supports institution development, documentation and training, publishing, human rights education, advocacy and campaigns.