For the first time, the Election Commission recognized transgender people as a distinct voting group in elections to state and union territory legislatures. Although very few transgender men and women across the country have utilized this to exercise their franchise, these are nonetheless welcome steps for the community.
Kerala’s transgender community has a population of nearly 40,000 in the state, yet only two people have been accorded the status of the “Third Gender” in the voter’s list: Surya, a mimicry artist and Suji, the only two to be listed as ‘third gender’ in the state electoral roll.
Surya exercised her franchise at a booth in Vattiyoorkkavu constituency in Thiruvananthapuram while Suji voted in Nattika in Thrissur. Of the two crore voters in Kerala, the number of voters from the third gender is an insignificant 2.
West Bengal fares much better in terms of the number of people who identified themselves as transgender. However, while the community numbers around 30,000, just 758 people were listed as “Other” on the electoral rolls. In all, there were 6.5 crore voters for the election which was held in six phases.
Riya Sarkar, a transgender woman, made history when she was picked by the State Election Commission to officiate as the presiding officer at booth number 260 in Rashbehari constituency, Kolkata. This was a welcome decision by the election commission to consciously include transgender people in the polling process.
Interestingly, there are two transgender candidates contesting from high-profile seats in Kolkata — Bhawanipore and Jadavpur. Both have been fielded by Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
Of all the states and the union territory which went to polls in May, Tamil Nadu saw the highest number of people registered as “Third Gender” on the state’s electoral rolls. The state, which has a long history of providing welfare measures for the community, had 3,446 voters from the community. Of course, it remains a tiny number of the total voters which stand at 5.62 crore.
The transgender community in Puducherry were left disappointed as the issue of wrong identification occurred wherein, the election commission issued voter slips identifying certain transgender people as women, against their choice of expression. While the voters’ identity card identifies them as transgender, the voters’ list and slip provide a wrong identification. In such cases, the official data of the number of female and transgender voters would go wrong.
Reportedly, everyone in the transgender community in Puducherry cast their vote in the Assembly elections 2016 held on Monday. The official figure of the transgender population in Puducherry is 87, while an NGO (Sahodaran) working with the transgender community claims that there are 280. While some were recognised as transgenders in both the voters’ ID and voters’ list, others were identified as female in the voters’ list. This has caused a lot of resentment among the transgender people not only in Puducherry but also in Tamil Nadu.
Thiruvananthapuram-based stage artist, Vineeth believes that the government could do more for the transgender community in terms of creating and implementing welfare policies. In an interview with TNM, before the election, she said, “How many people from transgender community are working in public sector in Kerala? Almost none. So (change in) voting is necessary, but include us in your system first.”