By Aashna Sheth
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
On April 15th 2014, the Supreme Court pronounced a landmark ruling regarding the recognition of the transgender community as the ‘Third Gender’ in India. This ruling formally recognized the transgender community as the Third Gender and stated that they were to be considered as a part of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) when it came to reservations. The ruling also laid emphasis on not only the recognition of the transgender community, but also their integration into the community, which includes their enrollment into educational institutions.
Following the Supreme Court ruling, the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued a notification to universities asking them to provide the option ‘Third Gender’ in their application forms for admission. This move clearly signifies the enforcement of the ruling as different colleges and universities such as the Delhi University, Bangalore University and most recently the Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad (MICA) included this option in their registration forms for admission. Although this move signifies an effort in the right direction, a check box on a form doesn’t ensure the acceptance and integration of the community into the educational institution or educational system. Thus, the question we need to ask is a crucial one; how are we supposed to ensure the smooth integration and assimilation of this community into the existing educational system?
The Supreme Court Ruling expressly stated that the State and Central Governments must take measures to address problems such as fear, shame, depression etc, which the transgenders might face. Even if our colleges and universities have accepted the ruling and implemented the direction of the court, it is also indispensable that they work towards the long-term consequences of this ruling so as to ensure the integration of the transgenders into the student body. Colleges should be equipped with infrastructure and well-trained staff to smoothly deal with this transition.
The UGC needs to enforce rules and provide these colleges with resources so they can equip themselves to deal with this ruling. Firstly, colleges need to provide counseling facilities for its existing students as well as the students from the transgender community who will be admitted. It’s essential that students belonging to the third gender are made to feel comfortable and accepted in their new milieu. They should be allowed to voice their problems, and should they face any grave issues, the counseling departments should be adept enough to handle and resolve them.
Furthermore, the students of the college/university should also be sensitized about this issue so as to prevent the bullying and ostracization of those belonging to the third gender. Ice breaking sessions should be conducted so that the students get to know one another and can help each other out when the need arises. It is also imperative to constantly reassure the students belonging to the third gender that they are accepted and welcome so they don’t face the horrors and fears of bullying and ostracization that they might have faced previously. Sociologists and journalists have observed that although colleges have opened their doors to the transgender community, a limited number of them are willing to enroll simply because they are afraid of the consequences. Thus, along with sensitizing the student body it is also vital to provide the transgender students with the reassurance they seek.
Apart from sensitization, education and providing counseling facilities, it is also imperative that colleges dedicate a certain amount of their budget towards the construction of separate bathroom facilities for students belonging to the third gender. Although not addressed often, and mostly or rather conveniently looked over, the provision of these facilities is of the essence. This move will provide the students belonging to this gender with the comfort and reassurance relating to acceptance they require. It’s as simple as this; if there are three check boxes, why can’t there be three toilets?
To ensure the protection of those who enroll into academic institutions and to uphold the significance of this landmark ruling, it is important to see this process through to its completion. Although it is extremely important to officially recognize the transgender community as the ‘Third Gender’, its mere recognition is not enough. It is essential that they are integrated into the community, the public is sensitized, and they are made to feel welcome and accepted into their new surroundings. A law, which looks at the world from a more futuristic and tolerant perspective, will not be efficacious if the mindsets of the population do not change. Thus, as the Supreme Court stated, it is important to eradicate this moral failure and gracefully embrace different gender identities and expressions.
Aashna Sheth is a 2nd year law student at Government Law College in Mumbai. She believes that the best form of expression is writing. She is an avid reader and deems it essential to keep abreast with recent developments. Hoping to become a successful lawyer some day, she also plays the piano and speaks fluent French. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org.