Protecting the rights of trans prisoners
In a landmark advisory issued earlier this week, the Union home ministry told prison authorities across the country to uphold the dignity and respect of transgender inmates, and make arrangements inside jails to ensure that the rights of transpersons are not violated.
The detailed communication on Monday also asked all prisons chiefs and state governments to create separate enclosures or wards and earmark separate toilets and shower facilities for transmen and transwomen to preserve the right to privacy and dignity of the inmates. The central government also said that the self-identity of transgender persons must be respected at all times – whether it be in admission, medical examination and care, search, clothes and treatment.
This is a welcome move. Research shows that transgender prisoners face significant hurdles in accessing any rights behind bars, and are often victims of violence and bullying at the hands of guards or other inmates. A 2020 report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative found little awareness of transgender rights among prison authorities, leading to a policy gap and little effort to protect their rights. Moreover, the report found data on trans prisoners was either absent or indifferently maintained.
Ensuring the rights of prisoners is an important facet of the Indian criminal justice system, and the government’s move to address the lacunae is laudable. However, this progressive attitude towards the marginalised group must also reflect in other government policy. The transgender rights law has only partially addressed the problems faced by transgender persons in accessing education, health care services, employment and housing. Members of the community continue to face violence at the hands of society, law enforcement officials and their own families. This must change.
India is one among a handful of countries that legally protects the rights of transgender people. But far too often, good policy is rendered effete due to hostile social attitudes. It is the government and its many arms that can beget change. The home ministry’s advisory opens the door.