In Kerala, a queer shift on the poll scene

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There are 174 registered transgender voters for the Lok Sabha elections in State

On Thursday, Chinju Ashwathi filed nomination papers from Ernakulam to become the first openly intersex and transgender to contest the Lok Sabha elections in the State.

This significant step in ‘other’ gender representation in politics is accompanied by a statistic that signals the winds of change – there are 174 registered transgender voters in the State this year.

This is up from the 2016 Assembly polls when there were only two registered transgender voters.

The number of registered voters, though, is only a fraction of the population of transgender people in the State. It is also less than the number that has applied for the transgender ID cards of the State government.

Shyama S. Prabha, project officer of the Transgender Cell in the Social Justice Department, says since the ID cards are issued after screening by a medical board, they can be used to secure voter ID, thus easing a transgender person’s registration as a voter.

Not enough

This clearly is not enough, though. The fear of social stigma prevents many transgenders from enrolling as transgender voters. Many of them of them are registered as male or female in the voter ID card, rather than transgender. The ostracism and ridicule they face also make them reluctant to fight for their rights. All these have kept the registered voter numbers low.

Sisily George, member on the Transgender Justice Board, Kozhikode, says only three members of the community from the district have been marked ‘third gender’ in the voter ID card, though 11 had applied. “We also want to be identified as transgender and not third gender.”

Sisily has contemplated contesting but has put it off for the Assembly polls. “It is not about winning, but making our space visible. We are still being ostracised,” she says.

Issues in manifestos

Political parties’ manifestos mention transgender people’s issues such as reservation in education and employment, revision of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill in line with the Supreme Court’s NALSA judgment of 2014, property rights for them, and making same-sex marriages legal.

Shyama says the nod for their issues in manifestos is a sign that transgenders are a vote bank that cannot be ignored.

Sisily regrets having posed for an election advertisement in favour of LDF candidate in Kozhikode A. Pradeep Kumar. It has been only a few days since Shalu, a transgender woman, was brutally murdered in the heart of the city. “The MLA is well acquainted with me. Yet, he did not even make a call to ask me or anyone in the community about the incident,” she says.

More awareness

Sheethal Shyam, transgender activist and actor, says more awareness needs to be created so that the number of registered voters goes up.

She cites roping in of make-up artist Renju Renjimar as SVEEP icon and an advertisement featuring three members of the Transgender Cell to create voter awareness among the community as steps in this direction.

She also wants adequate facilities for transgenders to vote and for poll officials to be aware of how to interact with the community. “The entire election process should be more inclusive.”

Vijayaraja Mallika, the first transgender poet in Malayalam, wants the government to come up with a transgender and intersex Bill. “Kerala was the first State to have a transgender policy. It could be a model for other States if it came up with the Bill,” she says.

The transgender community has come into focus of late but the intersex community has been largely ignored. There needs to be a proper census and documentation of the intersex community. The LGBTQ community should have reservation in jobs.

Mallika also wishes that same sex marriages are made legal in India.

“It is time we legalised same-sex marriage to ensure a dignified life for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people,” she says.

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