Breaking Traditional Chains: Transgender Struggle In India

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Breaking Traditional Chains: Transgender Struggle In India


India, as a country, has always strived to be inclusive and provide dignity and necessities to all citizens. India has reached a new era of social inclusion, providing recognition and protection to the transgender community. However, it lags in the implementation of the same and changing the view of society towards “the third gender” as a whole. Transgender people of all socio-economic backgrounds have faced discrimination and severe sexual harassment over the years. 


Transgender people have existed in society for thousands of years, with mentions of “Napunsaka” in Vedic literature as well. However, inequality sprouted against this community, mainly, under British colonial rule after they passed the “Criminal Tribes Act” in 1871. It mainly targeted “hijras”, “kotis”, and “khwajasaras”, deeming all activities of the male population dressing, dancing, or performing as women criminals. They were arrested or fined according to the extent of the offence. They created a category of “Eunuch” which included these and removed the orphan and unwanted children who were under their care, despite them not having any legal guardians. Even after the repealing of the said act in 1949, the mindset of the society did not change which made post-independent Indian life even more difficult for the community.


The Rights of Transgender persons bill proposed in 2014 was the act of the government of India to end discrimination against the transgender community and provide relief. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 24 April 2015 and introduced in the Lok Sabha on 26 February 2016. The bill was the first to be passed as a private member’s bill in Rajya Sabha in 45 years and in any house in 36 years. The bill provides education, employment as well as national and state-level commissions to the community; while also penalising hate speech against them for up to a year in prison. The NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) judgement 2014 recognized the rights of transgender people and urged the government to take steps for their welfare.

The 2014 bill introduced in the Lok Sabha was referred to the Standing Committee for further suggestions and was reintroduced in 2018. With a new government at the centre in 2019, the bill was finally converted into law by the parliament. Inclusive definitions and identities with the category of “the third gender” are provided under the law. Welfare schemes, healthcare facilities as well as equal opportunity policies were also introduced.  



The transgender community has been marginalised and stopped from fulfilling their socio-cultural needs as well as from living freely with all the rights given to a normal Indian citizen. Even after the passing of the bill to reduce discrimination and increase facilities for these people, the implementation by the government has been poor at best. Most of the transgender population is unaware of their rights. The government has failed to educate the masses about how these people should be treated. Even today, a large chunk of this community’s population remains homeless and battles for a dignified life on the streets.


The transgender community greatly lags in the developmental sector of education in the Human Development Index. They are usually under-educated or illiterate and are not allowed admission in educational institutes as these can be highly gendered places with social stigma and insensitive attitudes. The youth of the country is taught to seclude transgender children and taught prejudices regarding them. According to the Indian census in 2011, out of 4.9 Lakh transgender people, only 46 percent are literate in comparison to 74 percent of the general literate population. The government has provided these children with 25 percent reservation for admission in institutes and has classified them as an “economically weak sector”. 


Social stigma, lack of knowledge, opportunities, and confidence, and exclusion from family and friends since birth have led to a subsequent low economic state. Employment is difficult to find and since the literacy rate is low, they are unable to find dignified jobs. Discrimination in the recruitment practices of employers leads them with no other choice than to beg or do sex work to keep themselves afloat, which too comes with sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 


Transgender people, especially those who are unable to find a steady, are extremely vulnerable to mental health issues. Being transgender can already cause a lot of health issues and increase the risk of sexual diseases. On top of that, isolation from the general society can become the cause of self-harm and suicidal behavior. 


LGBTQ+ communities have started gathering together and creating groups in the past couple of years, followed by a slight increase in the representation of transgender people. They have started voicing their opinion and fighting for equality. Employment and educational inclusivity as well as specific healthcare benefits curated to transgender people have also been formulated. In 2022, the central government informed the state government to ensure separate wards and toilets for transgender persons in jails. Maharashtra has registered the highest number of applicants for board examinations as students await the addition of “the third gender” in forms. In 2020, the centre included transgender in their job applications in their departments. In a recent development of 2023, the first Rajasthani transgender birth certificate was issued. 

In 2023, an important ruling was made by the Indian Supreme court which stated that transgender persons have the right to marry their heterosexual partners. Though, this is a huge development for the transgender community, it disregards homosexual relationships and does not legalise their marriage union. 

Manabi Bandopadhyay became the first transgender college principal in India in the Krishnagar Women’s college in West Bengal. Apsara Reddy became the first transgender national general secretary of the All India Mahila Congress. Joyita Mondal made history by becoming the first transgender judge in India. 

In India, transgender people have a long struggle to fight. Where the legal implementation of laws for equal rights and assistance has proved to be a boon, implementation of the same in increasing and improving housing facilities, education, and health care needs to be strengthened. Awareness regarding this community is gradually spreading with the LGBTQ+ community more confident and vocal than ever. However, efforts need to be made, not only by the government but also by the common people to help them live the life they deserve. 

Author: Jasleen Kaur Palne


Jasleen Kaur

Author Since: November 22, 2023