For a community that has been marginalised for centuries now, the rise of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has come as a lucky break.
The Trinamool government has been raining sops on the 30,349 members of West Bengal’s transgender community, also called Hijras, with the intention of effecting their social recognition as well as financial independence. These measures include appointing India’s first transgender college principal; setting up the country’s third Transgender Development Board; considering the appointment of community members as civic police volunteers; introducing sex reorientation surgery (SRS) in state-run hospitals with dedicated beds; and constructing separate toilets for them.
“There has been a sea change in the government’s attitude towards the transgender community ever since Mamata Banerjee came to power. She is personally sensitive towards them,” said Manabi Banerjee, the transgender principal of the Krishnanagar Women’s College in Nadia district.
Manabi is also the vice-chairperson of the Transgender Development Board, which is headed by state women, child and social welfare minister Sashi Panja. The board recognizes all transsexuals, whether biological or post-operative.
Soon after the board was instituted in June, the Bengal government decided to introduce the SRS facility at a few leading government hospitals. It also offered dedicated beds to members of the community in all state-run hospitals.
According to Panja, SRS can be a costly affair if performed at a private hospital. Moreover, it should be carried out with adequate precaution to prevent future health hazards. “Individuals opting for SRS can avail proper guidance and clinical assistance from a panel of experts at government hospitals. Dedicated beds may help them avail of proper treatment, something they are often denied,” she said.
Tamil Nadu was the first state in India to set up a transgender welfare board, and offer SRS facilities at government hospitals. Later, Kerala and Maharashtra introduced similar boards of their own, along with schemes offering scholarships and homes.
Even the Centre has begun working towards ensuring transgender welfare, proposing a law that classifies them as backward and – consequently – providing much-needed reservation with regard to education and employment in the government sector. The proposed law, which comes three months after a private member bill on transgenders was approved by the Rajya Sabha, also provides for host of social sector benefits such as pensions and scholarships.
Taking its pro-transsexual campaign forward, the West Bengal government recently reached out to the corporate world too. Panja, in an address to the eighth CII Corporate Social Responsibility Meet 2015 at Kolkata, requested corporate houses to dedicate a portion of their CSR funds to installing separate toilets for transgenders. “They deserve separate toilets, which – unfortunately – are not there. Just imagine the difficulties faced by them. They are all humans. The government alone cannot do everything. Please come forward and help us achieve our social goals,” she said.
The country’s first toilet for transsexuals was constructed in Mysore, Karnataka, on November 19, 2015.
Panja’s request to Kolkata police commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayashta, seeking the recruitment of people from the community as civic police volunteers, has earned praises from various quarters too. “A section of the community is often seen begging at important crossings. It’s good that the government trusts the same people to manage traffic as well,” said Dr Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, a member of the LGBT community.
However, not everybody is looking at this picture with rose-tinted glasses. “It’s true that the government has begun making these people dream of a better life. But, over the past six months, there have just been decisions and announcements. Steps taken towards implementing these decisions are hard to trace. I doubt if the government has the money to turn its announcements to reality,” said Ranjit Sinha, secretary of the Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal, and a member of the state’s transgender development board.