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Home / India News / Trangender IDs caught in a tangle

Trangender IDs caught in a tangle

Like thousands of transgender people across the country, Gangabhavani is no stranger to the process of obtaining ID documents.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2019 22:46 IST
Dhamini Ratnam
Dhamini Ratnam
New Delhi
New Delhi, India - Dec. 17, 2017: Supporters and people belongiong to the transgender community protest against TG bill,and and other demands at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, December 17, 2017. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - Dec. 17, 2017: Supporters and people belongiong to the transgender community protest against TG bill,and and other demands at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, December 17, 2017. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

In September 2018, Matam Gangabhavani, a 26-year-old transwoman from Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, filed a public interest litigation against a government order (GO) that listed 11 government hospitals that would issue medical certificates/ transgender identity cards — the GO made no distinction between the two — after examination by a team of doctors that included a urologist, an endocrinologist and a psychiatrist.

Like thousands of transgender people across the country, Gangabhavani is no stranger to the process of obtaining ID documents. A medical examination is one of the many hurdles that transgender people experience in either obtaining or correcting ID papers.

A team of legal researchers led by the Centre for Health, Law, Ethics and Technology of O.P Jindal Global University, which filed hundreds of Right to Information queries with all states and union territories, found that till April 2017, only three states had issued identity cards to transgender people. This, despite directives issued by the Supreme Court in 2014, in its landmark National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) judgment. which granted legal recognition to transgender communities. The Centre’s report, titled ‘Bureaucratization of Transgender Rights,’ was published in the Socio-Legal Review of the National Law School of India University last year.

In an attempt to streamline the process of recognising transgender identity, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018, which was passed by the Lok Sabha in December, has a provision for a District Screening Committee that comprises a district magistrate, medical officers, psychiatrists and one transgender individual.

The committee’s mandate is to issue a transgender ID card, which can then be used as proof to make name and gender identity changes in all other documents, including the birth certificate.

However, widespread protests have been held across the country against the bill, which may come up in the Rajya Sabha in the ongoing Parliament session. At a demonstration in New Delhi on December 28, in which thousands of transgender people and political representatives of opposition parties like the Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) participated, a host of issues were flagged, including the bill’s provision for a screening committee.

The bill further stipulates that a transgender person who identifies as either a man or a woman can change the gender on the transgender ID card issued by the committee only after furnishing proof of having undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Activists quoted the 2014 Nalsa judgment, which recognised the right to self-identify one’s gender, and stated that asking for medical certificates to prove gender identity is “illegal and immoral”, to point out that the bill’s provisions are unconstitutional. At the protest, Saransh,, a transman from Delhi ,asked, “If you, a cisgender person, are not asked to strip before anyone to prove your gender, why should I? I am a man, and have identified that way since childhood, and I should not have to prove this to anyone”. Cisgender is a term used for people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

There are currently many cases before high courts around the country that highlight the difficulty that transgender people confront in obtaining proof of identity. Here’s a look at three of them.

Government order for physical exam

Andhra Pradesh passed an order in March 2018 that listed 11 government hospitals where medical certificates that double as transgender identity cards can be obtained after examination by a team of doctors.

In September, Gangabhavani filed a PIL in the state high court to quash the government order on grounds that it violated the right to privacy and equality and went against the Nalsa judgment. Gangabhavani’s experience bears this out.

In 2015, she applied for the post of a nurse at a government hospital and was referred to a gynaecologist for a medical certificate. The doctor not only physically examined her before post-graduate students—using her as a teaching prop—but referred her to a surgeon, who also physically examined Gangabhavani, and failed to furnish the certificate. Gangabhavani says that over the course of six months she was referred to a forensic team, a urologist, and an endocrinologist, none of whom issued a certificate. She eventually gave up, and took up a job as a baby sitter.

She is now a research assistant with the National Institute of Rural Development.Last month, the state filed a response stating that self-declaration of gender identity to avail of benefits “would result in misuse, thereby depriv(ing) the rights of the genuine TG persons”

Changes in school leaving certificates

SP (initials used to protect identity) fought and won a case in 2017 against the Department of Publication, which publishes the Gazette of India. When the 23-year-old approached the department to publish a change of name and gender identity, it asked her for a medical certificate. Her lawyer argued in the Delhi high court that the department violated the 2014 Nalsa judgment of the Supreme Court. SP also appealed to the ministries of law and justice, and housing and urban affairs, following which the department agreed to publish the change of name and gender identity in the gazette. Eventually, the department also issued a new proforma last year — now online — where transpeople can declare their gender without submitting medical proof. SP then petitioned the Allahabad high court’s Lucknow bench, as the Board of High School and Intermediate Education, UP required her to submit a medical certificate to consider her application to change the name and gender in her school leaving certificates.

SP is unwilling to submit to a physical examination in a state hospital to procure the medical certificate asked for by the board. At the same time, her petition argues, a certificate from a psychiatrist and the change of name published in the Gazette of India should be enough to change her name in her school certificates. The matter is being heard in court with the state board response being that the regulations at present do not permit change of name or gender.

Amended bylaws omit trans students

As an undergraduate student in Delhi University (DU) from 2013 to 2016, Riya Sharma, now 24, was issued an identity card that carried the gender marker ‘O’ (for Other), and a recent photograph that displayed her feminine identity. But the name remained unchanged from the one given to her at birth, and was reflected in her school leaving certificate and college transcripts as well.

Now a post-graduate student at the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Sharma is fighting a battle against both the university and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), as neither is allowing her to change her name on her documents.

Her petition also challenges the Department of Publication, which had asked her for a medical certificate for proof of gender identity when she sought to publish her change of name and gender identity in the gazette in 2016.

In June 2015, the Central Board of Secondary Education issued a notification that students can only change the name on their 10th and 12th certificates before they receive their results.

Following this, Delhi University amended its rules to say that students may change their university records only after changing the CBSE or state boards’ records. Sharma’s petition, filed in 2017, argues that between the CBSE and DU, she is caught in an impossible loop.

It is unrealistic to expect gender-non-conforming students to own their identity while still at school, on account of the harassment and bullying that they are subjected to.

Sharma’s case is up for final arguments and the education bodies aver that they are only following protocol.

Meanwhile, Sharma, who lives in Ajmer, Rajasthan, fears that unless this matter is resolved, she will be denied employment opportunities that insist on these documents.

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