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AICTE widens co-ed definition, but more must be done for transgenders

Institutes registered with the All India Council for Technical Education will have to include the “transgender” option in their prospectus, forms and any other material.

editorials Updated: Apr 02, 2017 20:23 IST
Hindustan Times
All India Council for Technical Education,Transgender,AICTE
A participant holds a rainbow coloured placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi November 30, 2014. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

College is often called the best time of one’s life. But for transgender students, the period is one of unmitigated misery filled with snide comments, taunts and constant ridiculing that often culminates in physical violence. Little wonder, then, that our colleges and universities hardly have any trans or gender non-conforming pupils. Much of this bias stems from an absence of proactive policy formation to shield the vulnerable community from discrimination.

Last week, however, brought some good news as India’s technical education regulator modified the definition of a “co-ed institution” to mean men, women as well as transgender. This meant that the 3,000-plus institutes registered with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) will have to include the “transgender” option and relevant information in their prospectus, forms and any other material. The regulator will also ask institutes to maintain the data of male, female and transgender students separately.

The measure is expected to help transgender students from being forced to check either the male or female option in college and university forms – the practice itself a unique form of violence perpetrated on a population who brave many risks and dangers to sever ties with genders they don’t identify with.

These developments come on the back of similar successes by transwomen in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu who went to the court to get a “third gender” or “other” option inserted in government job forms, college prospectus and entrance tests. Over the past year, an increasing number of universities and colleges have also revised their norms and stated their intent to welcome more transgender students.

The importance of education for the community cannot be stressed more. Structural barriers and violence in schools, colleges and universities keep transgender students out of educational institutions, ensuring that they don’t receive the necessary training for job skills and crushing any dreams they might harbour of becoming engineers, professors, lawyers or doctors. As a consequence, an overwhelming majority of transfolk are forced to live on the streets, beg for survival and go into sex work – only to be stereotyped as criminals by the same society that denied them a fair shot.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court said that transgender people had a right to jobs and education, and mandated quotas to ensure the uplift of the community. But on the ground, little has changed as authorities have dithered with framing policy and cracking down on bias and hatred. The AICTE’s move is to be lauded but one hopes that colleges and universities will implement it both in letter and spirit – support and encourage transgender students, sensitise staff to not indulge in discrimination and set up redressal mechanisms so that a pervasive atmosphere of hostility is dispersed. It is the least a country owes to one of its most marginalised groups.

First Published: Apr 02, 2017 20:22 IST