The Madras High Court, on Monday, January 29, lauded the collective effort of the government and the LGBTQIA+ community in drafting Tamil Nadu’s LGBTQIA+ policy and observed that the policy “stands as a testament” to the “state's purported commitment to inclusivity and empowerment”. Justice Anand Venkatesh made the observation during the hearing of the ongoing case, in which he has passed a series of directions for the betterment of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The court was being appraised by the state government on the developments in the policy making work. State Public Prosecutor Hasan Mohammed Jinnah submitted the status report filed by the Secretary to the Government, Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department, which explained the various consultation process that took place to come up with a draft policy. The SPP also submitted the draft policy to the court in a sealed cover. The court was also informed that more zonal consultation meetings have to be held and the public opinion must be integrated into the final draft before being submitted to the government.
The draft policy submitted to the court in a sealed cover was drafted by an 11-member committee, which was constituted by the state government in July last year. Headed by the Director of Social Welfare, the committee’s members include transgender activist Kalaimamani Sudha from the NGO Sahodaran; trans man Arun Karthick; psychologist Dr Vidhya Dinakaran from the Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board; vice president of NGO SAATHII L Ramakrishnan; co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles Chandramoulee; intersex and Dalit activist Vinodhan; LGBTQIA+ activist Busaina Ahamed Shah; Madras High Court advocate Ajeetha BS; and IIT Madras Associate Professor Tiju Thomas, alongside the joint director of Directorate of Social Welfare as the coordinator.
A public consultation meeting was held in Chennai on January 20, the inputs from which were also added to the draft before it was submitted to the court.
The court, in its order, noted the key features of the policy, which included horizontal reservation in education and employment for all transgender and intersex persons in the state; insurance cover, inclusive healthcare, and ban on corrective surgeries done on intersex infants and children.
The court observed, “The Tamil Nadu Gender and Sexual Minority (LGBTQIA+) Policy, with its intricate details and comprehensive approach, stands as a testament to the state's purported commitment to inclusivity and empowerment. The subtlety with which the policy navigates the complex landscape of LGBTQIA+ rights in Tamil Nadu contributes to a dialogue on diversity and acceptance”. The judge further added that the policy was a ‘commendable stride’ towards recognising and addressing the rights and welfare of trans and intersex individuals within the state.
The court also took note that all the LGBTQIA+ community members who fall under different umbrellas were considered during the drafting process. “The policy's consideration for specific sub-groups within the LGBTQIA+ community speaks to a nuanced approach to services, inclusion, and sensitization. The acknowledgement of the diverse perspectives from the drafting committee and community consultations in the policy development process adds credibility to its comprehensive nature,” the court said.
It also appreciated the Social Welfare Department, State Planning Commission, and LGBTQIA+ community members who contributed in the drafting process and said that it showcased a ‘collaborative effort’ in the policy's formulation. “The conscientious gathering of recommendations from community members through meetings and consultations reflects a dedication to a participatory and inclusive policy making process,” Justice Venkatesh added.
Taking into consideration the fact that a section of trans women activists expressed their concerns regarding the policy and demanded for a separate policy for trans and intersex persons alone, Justice Anand Venkatesh assured that there was no attempts to hasten up the process and that a policy which is more beneficial to the community alone will be made operational. The implementation of the final policy will take some more time since the interest of the stakeholders and more particularly the interest of persons belonging to the transgender community has to be addressed,” he said and added that the state government can take the call to expand the committee by adding persons belonging to the trans community.
The court granted three months time for the state government to make the policy available to the public in Tamil and English, as well as to conduct state-wide public consultation meetings and incorporate the feedback. The case will be next heard on June 10, 2024.