[op-ed snap] A promise falls short: Reforms to give transgender persons their rights


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the NALSA v. Union of India case.

Mains level: Directions given to the central and the state governments in the NALSA v. Union of India. And challenges faced by the transgender community in India.


NALSA v. Union of India 

  1. In this case, it was held that the right to gender identity is inherent in one’s right to life, autonomy and dignity
  2. They held that transgender persons have the right to identify their gender as male, female or transgender irrespective of medical sex reassignment and the right to expression of their chosen gender identity

Why is the NALSA case so important?

  1. NALSA brought with it great excitement and gave momentum to the trans rights movement in India
  2. Transgender persons have been criminalised, discriminated against, deprived of access to education and employment, they have faced sexual and physical violence, even been killed due to their gender choices
  3. NALSA for the first time gave public recognition to the violence and discrimination that the trans community faces in India and declared unequivocally their entitlement to constitutional fundamental rights

It is time we ask whether NALSA’s promises are being fulfilled? Are there positive changes on the ground?
Directions of the SC for the Central and the State Governments

  1. The apex court directed the Central and State governments to grant legal recognition of gender identity of male, female or transgender;
  2. to provide reservations to transgender persons in admission in educational institutions and in public appointments;
  3. to provide medical care to transgender persons in hospitals and provide them separate public toilets and other facilities;
  4. to frame social welfare schemes for their uplift; and to create public awareness
    These directions are far from being implemented
  5. The proposed Transgender Persons Bill, 2016 was extremely problematic as it failed to even define transgender persons adequately and was rejected by the trans community
  6. Government forms have included the ‘TG’ option in the gender category, but till date there is no law in place providing for a change in one’s name and gender identity

Some challenges faced by the transgender community

  1. One of the biggest challenges that the transgender community faces is for recognition of their chosen names and gender
  2. Getting their changed names and gender markers in their birth certificates, educational certificates, PAN cards, passports and identity documents is very difficult with no norms or guidelines laid down for such change of legal identity
  3. Transgenders are not included in any of the reserved categories, making education and public employment out of bounds for them due to their transgender and gender non-conforming status
  4. Even within schools, universities and public institutions there are no gender neutral public toilets

The way forward

  1. It is time to push purposefully for these reforms
  2. The list of legal reforms that are needed to truly capture the letter and spirit of NALSA is long
  3. The Supreme Court has been constantly reiterating its stand on transgender rights, and it is time that governments work towards the realisation of these rights