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Swati Bidhan Baruah v. The State of Assam PIL 15/2017

On the 22nd of May, 2018, a division bench of the Gauhati High Court ordered the Government of Assam to implement the directions of the NALSA[1] case within 6 months (i.e. by 22nd November, 2018). A transgender person who was the founder of the All Assam Transgender Association had filed a public interest litigation in the Gauhati High Court praying that the NALSA directions be implemented by the Assam Government. In the NALSA case, the Supreme Court of India had recognized that all fundamental rights apply to transgender persons. Accordingly, they had passed directions to the Union and State government with respect to the transgender population. Summarily, the directions had ordered the following: 1. It had recognized the fundamental right of self- identification to transgender persons, 2. It had directed the State to provide reservations to that population in educational institutions and public appointments, 3. To operate separate HIV sero-surveillance centres for them, 4. To take step to address the mental and emotional stressors faced by this population and also educate the public about them, 5. To provide separate public toilets, 6. To provide them proper medical care in hospitals, and 7. That the recommendations of the expert committee studying the problems of the transgender population be implemented within 6 months. The directions, in full are as follows:

(1) Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as “third gender” for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.

(2) Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.

(3) We direct the Centre and the State Governments to take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments.

(4) Centre and State Governments are directed to operate separate HIV Sero-surveillance Centres since Hijras/Transgenders face several sexual health issues.

(5) Centre and State Governments should seriously address the problems being faced by Hijras/Transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.

(6) Centre and State Governments should take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in the hospitals and also provide them separate public toilets and other facilities.

(7) Centre and State Governments should also take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.

(8) Centre and State Governments should take steps to create public awareness so that TGs will feel that they are also part and parcel of the social life and be not treated as untouchables.

(9) Centre and the State Governments should also take measures to regain their respect and place in the society which once they enjoyed in our cultural and social life.

However, the Assam State government had taken no steps to implement the directions of the Supreme Court. The High Court noted that it was only after receiving notice from the court in this matter that the government had constituted a committee to study the problems faced by the transgender community. The High Court directed the committee to submit its recommendations to the government within 3 months of the order and the government to implement the recommendations within 6 months. Separate from the case, a recent study published in June, 2018, sent right to information applications (RTI) to various departments of the central and state governments to inquire into their progress with the implementation of the NALSA directions.[2] Responses received until April 2017 were analyzed. The analysis with respect to Assam has shown the following:

  1. Assam provides employment and issues identity cards, to transgender persons, as peer educators (PE) under a targeted intervention scheme. The scheme is aimed at reducing the vulnerabilities of the transgender population to HIV/AIDS and covers up to 240 transgender persons.
  2. Assam replied that it has set up a screening committee to issue transgender certificates.[3] Criteria to issue these certificates were not mentioned.
  3. Assam stated that it did not require a medical certificate to grant an identity card as PE to a transgender person.[4]
  4. Assam stated that its government hospitals provide health care to transgender persons, just like to everyone else.[5]
  5. Assam stated that social welfare schemes are at their stage of inception in accordance with the National AIDS Control Organization prescription. It is unclear what ‘inception’ means in this context.[6]
  6. Assam stated that it conducts counselling programmes for the transgender population.[7]
  7. Assam stated that it holds meetings to spread awareness about the transgender community.[8]
  8. Assam stated that it had set up a transgender and intersex persons NGO crisis committee.[9]

[1] National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors. W.P. (Civil) No. 400/2012.[2] Dipika Jain, Gauri Pillai, Surabhi Shukla and Justin Jos, “Bureaucratization of Transgender Rights: Perspective from the Ground 14 SOCIO-LEGAL REVIEW (2018) 98 [“RTI Article”].

[3] RTI Article, 111.

[4]  RTI Article, 114.

[5] RTI Article, 124.

[6] RTI Article, 128.

[7] RTI Article, 133.

[8] RTI Article, 135.

[9] RTI Article, 137.