Y. Maheswar Reddy takes a look at transgender, a sexual minority fare in Bengaluru and the hope that Mayor Sampath Raj has given them with his promises.
It is quite heartening to hear notes of positivity emanating from Mayor R Sampath Raj who is not only talking about filling up potholes but also adding helipads and introducing taxi pods to make Bengaluru a livable city. His latest pronouncement is aimed at bringing the most neglected community into the mainstream of society.
The mayor wanted to use unutilized funds to empower transgenders in the city. Recently, he convened a meeting with transgender community leaders to discuss about the welfare programmes for the benefit of sexual minorities in Bengaluru.
At the meeting he questioned the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) welfare department officials on the failure to implement welfare schemes for the sexual minorities in the city. He advised the BBMP officials to treat applications seeking financial assistance from transgenders with compassion.
“The needs of transgenders are unique. Apart from medical expenses, we are ready to pay for their education, to buy a laptop, start a business. The scheme cannot be restricted to a pre-determined set of uses,” Mayor Sampath Raj said.
According to Mayor Sampath Raj, the BBMP had allocated Rs 2 crore exclusively for the upliftment of transgender community in the city but not a single rupee was utilized due to administrative hurdles.
Lack of interest or failure in submitting proper documents are attributed as reasons for the welfare schemes ending up as non-starters. “Most of the transgenders have no permanent address because they do not own houses. The BBMP officials insist on address proof. How is it possible for us to submit the documents that we actually do not have?’’ asks Veena, vice-president, Samara, an organization working for sexual minorities.
Many transgenders opine that the authorities forget about the welfare schemes as soon as they are announced. For example, the BBMP had announced a skill development programme for transgenders a few years ago. The sexual minorities were supposed to hone up their skills at a training centre situated near the Hebbal Police Station. But the much-publicized training programme did not take off. Neither the BBMP authorities, nor the stakeholders made common cause and got these schemes off the ground.
“The scheme was forgotten as soon as it was announced by the BBMP authorities. Many of us were not even aware of the programme that was announced a few years ago,’’ said Akkai Padmashali, a social activist who received Karnataka State award for her contribution to the welfare of sexual minorities.
Emphasizingthe need to accept sexual minorities as human beings, Akkai Padmashali recalled how the sexual minorities have been discriminatedin the society.
“There is always an issue on where to sit while commuting on BMTC bus - whether to sit in the men’s or the women’s seats. We identify ourselves as females but no female likes to sit next to us. A few years ago, a woman sitting next to me got up and walked away the moment I answered my phone in the bus. Until then she thought I was a woman,” Akkai said.
There are thousands of transgenders in the city, most of them having migrated from neighboring states. A majority of them do not have a shelter of their own. They have to rent a house in a backward or under-developed locality in the city because no house-owner in the more up-scale areas of the city likes to rent out his house to them.
The leaders of sexual minorities want that the BBMP to allot houses for them on a priority basis. According to them, there are some bright students among the sexual minorities who desperately need financial assistance to pursue higher studies. They said the BBMP and the state government can provide employment to them instead of wasting time in announcing welfare schemes that would remain on paper.
“It will be a great help for sexual minorities if the BBMP authorities employ one transgender at each of Indira Canteens in the city. We have also appealed to the Mayor to consider filling up Group-D posts in the BBMP with eligible transgenders,’’ opines Veena.
The community leaders want the BBMP to select one transgender for all ward committees and involve them in meetings aimed at discussing development of the respective ward. “We have requested the BBMP to select one transgender representative for each ward. It will help us to be a part of the governance system and help the BBMP to chalk out integrated development programmes for the community,” Veena added.
Shakeel Ahmed, the newly elected chairman of BBMP social welfare standing committee, is confident of extending a helping hand to the sexual minorities.
“I am aware of the problems of transgenders. Recently, they met Mayor Sampath Raj seeking full utilization of the Rs 2 crore allocated for their welfare schemes. I have convened one more meeting with the leaders of sexual minorities within a few days. I am confident of doing something for the benefit of transgenders during my tenure as the chairman of standing committee of social welfare,’’ Shakeel Ahmed said.
The Karnataka State Women Development Corporation (KSWDC) has been facilitating training programmes all these years to empower transgenders. Apart from providing guidance and counseling for the sexual minorities on how to start a business on their own, the KSWDC has been providing subsidy to them.
The KSWDC has trained 1,176 sexual minorities in 2012-13 and provided Rs 39.77 lakh subsidy to them. It has trained 759 transgenders and provided Rs 151.70 lakh in the year 2013-14. It has trained 720 and sanctioned Rs. 144 lakh subsidies in the year 2014-15 and Rs 2 crore for 1,000 transgenders in the year 2015-16.
“We gave training and guidance to 1,000 transgenders across the state last year. Each of the beneficiaries got Rs 20,000 as subsidy,’’ said Sreenivas of KSWDC.
The KSWDC encourages the transgenders to empower themselves by starting small businesses like opening a small provision store or a footwear shop or a beauty parlor.
“From this year onwards, the state government has amended the norms by insisting that thebeneficiaries should compulsorily availthe Rs 25,000 loan besides Rs 25,000 subsidy but they are not ready to avail the loan. We are writing to the government seeking relaxation of the norm which makes it compulsory for them to avail loan to get the benefit of the subsidy”. Sreenivas said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Sampath Raj said that he would write a letter to the Housing Minister M Krishnappa and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah requesting them to consider the sexual minorities while allotting houses.
He has also said that a letter would be written to the Commissioner, Bengaluru Development Authority to consider allotting sites for sexual minorities.
All in all, it seems the new Mayor is very enthusiastic about bringing the sexual minorities to the mainstream by utilizing the Rs 2 crore funds that was allotted a few years ago. The million-dollar question is whether Sampath Raj will follow the footprints of his predecessors who have forgotten the existence of sexual minorities in the city or will he honor his tallest commitment. Will he, or will he not? The sexual minorities have to wait and watch.
First count of third gender in census: 4.9 lakh
There is finally an official count of the third gender in the country — 4.9 lakh. While transgender activists estimate the numbers to be six to seven times higher, they are thrilled that such a large number of people identified themselves as belonging to the third gender, despite the fact that the census counting happened well before the Supreme Court order gave legal recognition to the third gender in April this year.
Of the total number of transgenders identified by the census, almost 55,000 are in the 0-6 population. This has come as a big surprise to the community as they did not expect so many parents to identify their children as belonging to the third gender.
"After the disappointment of the election commission's efforts, this is fantastic news for the transgender community. We were extremely disappointed because during the voter registration process only 28,341 people registered as belonging to the third gender," said Kalki Subramaniam, transgender rights activist and founder of the Sahodari Foundation. She added that she was even more amazed that parents would come out and accept and identify their children as being transgender. Anjali Gopalan of Naz Foundation said that even the current figure of 4.9 lakh was on the lower side as it was unlikely that the number of people declaring themselves as transgender would ever give an accurate figure.
Over 66% of the population identified as third gender lived in rural areas, very close to the 69% of the overall population that lives in villages. The census data also revealed the low literacy level in the community, just 46%, compared to 74% literacy in the general population. "I am not surprised that the literacy rate is so low because it is not uncommon at all for people of transgender to drop out of school because of the harassment and discrimination they face," said Gopalan.
The highest proportion of the third gender population, about 28%, was identified in Uttar Pradesh followed by 9% in Andhra Pradesh, 8% each in Maharashtra and Bihar, over 6% in both Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal and well over 4% in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha. Rajasthan accounted for over 3% of the total transgender population and Punjab for 2%.
The proportion of those working in the transgender community is also low (38%) compared to 46% in the general population. Only 65% of the total working population are main workers — those who find work for more than six months in the year — compared to 75% in the general population.
"This is a beginning and we are proud that the census could draw out part of the truth and establish that the transgender community exists and that their literacy rate is very low. They have also established that transgender children exist. It is now up to the government to bring in policy to ensure that they are not discriminated against and that they enjoy equal rights like any other children," said Kalki.
Courtesy Rema Nagarajan / TNN / May 30, 2014