Kochi Metro’s transgender outreach is cause for cheer

Kochi Metro’s decision to offer three-year contracts to 23 transgender people helps in setting a model for the government to enact affirmative action policies in jobs for one of India’s most marginalised sections.

opinion Updated: May 19, 2017 22:18 IST
Transgender rights,Kochi Metro,Supreme Court
Transgender athletes take part in a run at the nation's first ever transgender athletics meet in Thiruvananthapuram earlier this year.(PTI)

Metro projects are touted as an innovative remedy to the traffic knots in major Indian cities. Last week, the Kochi Metro project gave another reason for cheer.

The government-backed project said it will offer three-year contracts to 23 transgender people, and employ them in housekeeping, ticketing, publicity and canteens. The initiative came as a joint venture with a self-help group Kudumbashree that received widespread praise in February for opening a transgender section.

But apart from the immediate benefits of the move, the Kochi Metro’s decision also helps in setting a model for the government to enact affirmative action policies in jobs for one of India’s most marginalised sections.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court had ordered sweeping protections for the transgender community that included setting aside quotas for them in jobs and education. This came from a recognition of the hurdles of access that ensured transpersons are kept at the fringes of our colleges, schools, offices and factories for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability or qualification.

The only way out of this is proactive and affirmative policy. But the government has dithered on this front, with little action on the ground backing the well-intentioned talk. Today, few organisations help or employ transgender people and even basic facilities such as toilets become a problem for trans employees in the workplace.

Bullying and stigma remain rampant and trans employees – the few who make it to white-collar jobs report high levels of stress, discrimination and hate from their colleagues. Many are outright refused the right to use the name or gender of their choice, or wear the clothes they want. The discomfort of fellow workers becomes more important than the right of a transperson to earn their livelihood.

This forces many to drop out, resort to other less paying professions, depression and even suicide. The court struggle by Atri Kar in West Bengal, for example, to change government job application forms that didn’t have a transgender option is testament to the lengths transpeople have to go for things we take for granted.

The other facet of affirmative action lies in understanding the causes for under-representation of transgender people in traditional jobs before rushing to ban options such as begging or sex work, as the recent transgender rights bill does. Even in prestigious institutes such as Delhi University, few transgender people enrol owing to a lack of genuine commitment, fears of bullying and violence, and crushing poverty.

Many transgender people are thrown out of homes, subject to abuse, body mutilation and thrashing and have scant access to resources needed to access education. Even the few who are well off are often pushed out of the mainstream by a daily barrage of abuse, stares and shame – thereby ensuring no provision of white-collar jobs. To criminalise acts such as beggary is, then, a de-facto jail sentence for the community.

We live in times where transgender is a buzzword, often used by high-voltage publicity campaigns to garner goodwill and notch up progressive points. But away from the glare of the camera, trans communities still battle overwhelming amounts of poverty, bias and violence. Timely and affirmative action can change this. We need many more Kochis.


First Published: May 17, 2017 16:36 IST