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Indian society has a 4000-year history of pushing its male to female transgender community into becoming Hijra. Hijra are males who dress and take on the mannerisms of a woman. They are closely associated with prostitution, begging and are thought of as powerful deities of fertility. Hijra are both repelled and feared by the majority of society. Given the horrific discrimination transgendered people face in India, many individuals see becoming Hijra as the only possible role for them in society.
However, significant strides have been made for transgender rights in Tamil Nadu. In most states, transgendered individuals are not permitted to obtain fundamental rights, such as voter registration or ration cards. This robs them of the ability to have a say in their government and receive basis services.
Tamil Nadu established India’s first transgender social welfare board in 2008. This body was assembled in response to the great discrimination and health dangers faced by Tamil’s transgendered community. Tamil Nadu’s transgender welfare board issued ration cards for transgender individuals. The government issued a state census to identify and provide Tamil transgendered individuals with identity cards. One month after the board was formed, the government issued a third order, guaranteeing transgenders reserved seats in Tamil Nadu’s colleges and universities.
Many believe the transgendered social welfare board is highly ineffective and lacks the forward momentum many people in the transgendered community need to see. In response to this, a coalition of transgender organizations came together to form the Federation of Indian Transgender (FIT). This body was formed to monitor the progress and efficacy of Tamil’s transgender welfare board.
Despite this controversy, Tamil Nadu is struggling to pilot a more accepting space for transgendered individuals in India. For this we must give the state credit. However, transgendered individuals—whether identifying as Hijra or otherwise—face tremendous discrimination across all sectors and all states. We must support them and others in building a more accepting and free India.
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