The closet days are over! The forthcoming assembly elections will see Bengal’s transgender people lining up outside polling booths and exercising their right to vote.
For long consigned to the underbelly and the dregs of society, the state’s transgender people are to be enlisted as voters for the first time since being recognised as the ‘third gender’ by the Supreme Court.
The process of having them registered as voters is already under way in pollbound Bengal. The move would mark a giant leap for the community.
Altough the Election Commission (EC), in 2009, had ruled that transgender people could cast their votes as the “other gender”, the Bengal election will mark the first time that they will exercise their franchise since being declared the “third gender”. “In 2011, only a few of us were able to vote. But, we still longed for the recognition that came after the Supreme Court granted us the status of third gender. It opened a whole new world before us. Hence, this (Bengal) election will give us an opportunity to step out into the sunshine, as it were, and vote with pride,” Ranjita Sinha, a transgender and member of the national and Bengal’s transgender development board, said. In a landmark judgment in April 2014, the apex court granted “third gender” status to transgenders and hijras (ennuchs). Soon after the judgment, several states announced the setting up of development boards for the transgender community.
“Earlier, we could only cast our votes as males or females. But this year, we will vote as transgenders. My three daughters, too, will vote as transgenders. It would, indeed, be a moment to cherish for us,” Aparna Banerjee, a transgender and member of the state’s transgender development board, said. Banerjee said though the Bihar polls followed shortly after the landmark apex court judgment, only a handful from the transgender community could vote. However, Sinha said only about 500 transgender people of thousands in Bengal have been registered in voters’ lists.
“Bengal is home to more than 30,000 transgender people. However, only about 500 of them have been included in voters’ lists. This reflects the stepmotherly attitude of the state government towards our community and their failure to enter more transgender people into the electoral rolls,” Sinha, who is also the secretary of the Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal (ATHB), said.
Sinha claimed while the state government has been proactive with regard to having more transgender people entered in electoral rolls in Kolkata, the scene in the hinterland marks a stark contrast as officials responsible for the job have shown similar urgency to pursue the matter and ensure better representation of transgenders in voters’ lists.
“If political parties are, indeed, serious about our holistic development and welfare, they should consider members of our community for nomination for the elections,” Sinha said. Shashi Panja, the state women and child development minister who is also the chairman of the state transgender development board, said, “Both the EC and members of the transgender community should hold awareness camps to encourage more transgender people to come forward and get themselves registered in voters’ lists.”