Human Rights Day 2010: Transgender Rights in India


Human Rights Day 2010: Transgender Rights in India

December 10, 2010

Racial equality. Religious freedom. Freedom of speech. These are the things that often come to mind when we speak of human rights. But on the international stage, rights for certain communities are recurrently disregarded. The transgender community—particularly transgender people in the developing world—is but one example.

In India, there are approximately one million transgender people. Hijras—physiological males who take on a feminine gender identity—comprise one segment of the transgender population. On the one hand, hijras are called upon to offer special blessings during auspicious occasions like weddings and birth ceremonies. The rest of the time, they are not only ignored but are often ostracized from society. Discrimination has prevented most hijras from obtaining decent education, jobs and housing. The majority of transgender Indians live in slums and, with limited job opportunities, resort to sex work or begging. Many are HIV-positive. Though some transgender Indians receive funding for HIV-prevention, most are excluded from receiving basic support for their livelihoods because they are typecast as a “high risk” population.

While transgender Indians continue to face discrimination, they have also made significant social and legal gains. In July 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized “gay sex,” and in November, transgender people won the right to be listed as “other” rather than “male” or “female” on electoral rolls and voter identity cards. Even more recently, in October 2010, the Karnataka state government approved that transgender citizens become eligible for government seed funding to start self-employment ventures—a change catalyzed by AJWS’s grantee, the Salaam Initiative.

This year’s commemoration of Human Rights Day celebrates human rights defenders who are fighting discrimination against some of the most marginalized people in the world.

AJWS supports several organizations in India that are working to secure and advance human rights for transgender people and other sexual minorities:

The Salaam Initiative, founded in 2007, addresses human rights violations against sexual minorities, sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and dalits. It works to counter police and criminal gang violence, family violence, and social stigma, while also advocating for sexual minorities’ access to healthcare, housing and employment.

Santi Seva facilitates and enhances effective participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS through advocacy, networking, research, capacity building, and treatment services. The organization runs a support group for male-to-female transgender communities and offers informal education and vocational training to transgender populations.

Parcham, an organization of sex workers and their families, fights against the criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers and advocates for the extension of government social service programs to India’s red light districts—areas that are traditionally ignored by government departments. The organization’s project “Livelihood Rights for Sex Workers” forms community-based committees of sex workers and their families in 25 red-light districts in southern Bihar and advocates for the extension of government social service programs.