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Friday, February 22, 2008

First ever welfare board for transgenders

In a recent progressive step, the Tamil Nadu government is set to become a model for protecting rights of sexual minorities. And has given succor to people on the margins of society that their voices can be heard in the corridors of power.

Following a public hearing highlighting daily injustice and poverty faced by the transgender community in Tamil Nadu, the state governor announced, on January 23 2008, the establishment of a Welfare Board for Transgenders – a world first.

The hearing organised by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Solidarity Action group (TASA), Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women and ActionAid brought together over 300 transgender people from across the state.

A citizen’s jury, including the former director general of police, retired judge and university vice chancellor, heard the concerns of those living a ‘blurred identity’.

The denial of dignity

“Parents disown us, schools don’t take us, and doctors deny us treatment. We are treated as outlaws in this free land where we cannot enjoy even the basic rights of identity. And this is a traumatic emotional issue for us,” said K Madhumathi, a transgender and social worker, one of the 20 who presented their case at the public hearing.

“In the absence of job opportunities I became a sex worker and got infected with HIV. I had to struggle hard before I finally saw a doctor. As a transgender I grew up with stigma and insult but it has only made me stronger as a person. I will continue to fight for my right to live with dignity,” shared Noorie a well know transgender activist from Chennai.

Noorie’s story was earlier shared as a video message during a World AIDS Day event organised by ActionAid in Rome winning support from Vladimir Luxuria from Italy, the only transgender parliamentarian in the world who agreed to back ActionAid’s campaign for universal access to treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“In most cases, because of desertion by family and society transgenders leave home and resort to begging, dancing or sex work for a living which makes them more prone to HIV infection,” said Esther Mariaselvam of ActionAid.

A model step

The citizen’s jury made key recommendations to the Government of Tamil Nadu for favourable policies so that they can live a life with dignity. These included issuing of Public Distribution System (PDS) cards for subsidised food and fuel, other social security schemes and repeal of Indian Penal Code 377 which criminalises sexual expression by homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals.

The Minister of Food and Civil Supplies was the first to come forward to issue the PDS cards to transgenders. The Chief Election Commissioner has promised to issue voter identity cards.

The announcement of the Welfare Board prompted activists to organise a thanksgiving for Chief Minister Dr. Kalaingar Karunanidhi.

Expressing gratitude A J Hariharan, Chairperson of TASA said:
“It is a tremendous leap to have a separate board set up for transgenders, first of its kind. Tamil Nadu should be a model not only for the rest of India but for the entire world.”


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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