Our society is deeply structured with sex and gender. The categorisation of people as ‘male’ or ‘female’ permeates our society on every level. The rights of transgenders have been reaffirmed to be at par with the rights of heterosexual people, as enshrined under the Constitution of India. With the growing economy, question emerges as to whether the transgender community is enjoying the equal employement opportunities in this democratic nation.
According to the 2021 Census, there are more than 4.8 lac transgender people in India, whereas only 30,000 are registered with the Election Commission. Experts suggest that there could be a total of 60 lakh transgender people, however, the majority prefer keeping it a secret. Why?
The brutal answer is DISCRIMINATION and dichotomous attitude of the society exhibited towards them. They choose to hide the fact of their lives, their gender identities – because revealing it will bring them shame, rebuke and may face social outcaste.
Gender diversity provides a challenge to the gender binary system in a number of ways, viz., gender queer, intersex, third or other gender and so on. Transgender is the blanket term of those whose sexual expression, behaviour and sexual identity differs from the norms expected from birth sex, and so they also challenge this normalisation of gender binary system. They face severe discrimination and harrasment and are subjected to unfair treatments, like verbal, physical, mental and sexual harrasment, rejection in jobs, services, educational institutions and victimisation in multiple settings like family, schools, colleges, healthcare settings, workplace and public spaces.
A study by the National Human Rights Commission states that 92% of them are deprived of the right to participate in any form of economic activities, 99% suffer social rejection, 96% are forced to take up undignified jobs, 60% never attended school and 89% complaint for no jobs even though they are qualified.
The question as to why they do not get jobs should be asked later, the first issue that should be addressed would be ‘why they do not get the education they want and deserve?’
Schools and colleges forget that they are products of society and they carry with them gender norms baggage of their community. The most important point to address the gender biases that teachers, whom the education institution has tasked with the responsibility of inducing wider gender norms change, seems to fail. Every child’s personality takes shape during their early age and they spend a considerable amount of time in schools, hence it becomes the responsibility of educational institutions to disseminate education on self love, respect, inclusion and mental health. Demonisation of orientation, nonconforming and transsexual kids and youth is intensified in the school system, which reflects the remainder of the society in reinforcing strictly binary and patriarchal gender norms. Other reasons are exclusion from society, family, poverty, violence and insensitive attitude of teachers – which ultimately comes to reflect in the future generation!
The interruptive education and social exclusion limits the employment opportunities for the community. Even those who manage to survive the hostility they encountered find their employment rights curtailed, either by limited education qualification or due to discrimination during the hiring process, harassment at the workplace and absence of gender appropriate rest rooms. Many companies reject them claiming they are not the right candidate, lack the right set of qualifications, and that boils down to the fact that they were rejected in the first place, almost like a vicious cycle.
Stigma, discrimination and violence leaves them with no alternative but begging and sex work. However, looking at the bright side we see a ray of hope in this dark sky. There has been an acceptance in some parts of India towards them. Many NGOs, national and international, now have provided them with jobs where they can speak up for their rights, and get a decent work environment as well.
From 2002 to 2017, the percentage of Fortune 500 companies that include workplace protection for them has gone up from 3% to 83%. With the help of social media, we can spread awareness to not treat them unfairly if we ever get the chance of interaction. If not the fear of the law, at least the humanity within can enlighten us with the realisation that they just want a normal life at work and otherwise, and they deserve every bit of it as we do.
If we as a society wish to change, it should begin at home. We must understand and educate ourselves and our children from a young age. Teach ourselves the importance of accommodating gender identity. Even as professionals, we can circulate a sense of inclusivity towards them at workplaces, and discuss with our superiors the level of importance. Such small steps can change the lives of many and benefit the society to be more forward and understanding.