This blog is based on a talk that Dr Daniela Alaattinoğlu and I delivered recently at the University of Oxford. As we delivered the talk together, we have also authored this text together. As its title suggests, the main finding of the talk was that the medical field exercises immense control over the legal gender recognition of trans persons. Even when the law is based only on self-identification, and no role has been carved out for medical professionals, they seem to exercise a great influence in the desire and ability of a trans person to get legal gender recognition. Let us look closer at the Nordic countries and India.
On the 26th of March, 2019, a single bench of the Karnataka High Court directed the Department of Education of Karnataka State to issue circulars to educational institutions requiring them to implement the directions issued by the Supreme Court in NALSA. Additionally, it also directed the Department to expeditiously consider a representation made by a trans-masculine person for name and gender change in his school and pre-university educational records. In this blog, I will primarily argue that even if a petitioner submits sex re-assignment (SRS) certificate and psychological evaluation certificate in support of his name and gender change application, as per NALSA, the court should not consider them in making their ruling. Name and gender change applications can be made on the basis of self-determination alone. The right to a self-determined gender identity has been found to a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and under the the personal autonomy guarantee of Article 21. However, the trend of the Indian courts has been to rely on SRS certificates when a person tries to change their gender and name contrary to their societal perception. I will also mention an interesting argument made in the petition regarding privacy under Article 21. This argument was made in addition to the other constitutional violations alleged in the case but I am not detailing with those arguments as they are quite standard.
1. FACTS OF THE CASE
Since the petition filed in court was publicly available, I have relied on it to draw out the facts. The petitioner was an 18 year old male whereas the respondents were the State Pre-University Education Department (PU Department) and the State Higher Secondary Education Department (SSLC).The petitioner had been assigned gender female at birth which was recorded in his birth certificate but had identified as male from a very young age. He also passed his SSLC and PU examinations with gender recorded on those pass certificates as “girl.” In line with his intention to change his name and gender to that of a male, he executed an affidavit and issued public notice in the form of newspaper advertisements in a regional daily and in a local newspaper. These procedures were in line with the general procedures specified by the Gazette of India to record a change of name. Incidentally, the Department of Publication of the Government of India has now uploaded a new performa on their website which can be used for name and gender change. The performa does not require the applicant to have undergone SRS or psychological evaluation for the same.
In addition to the Gazette process, the petitioner also underwent psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist diagnosed the petitioner with gender identity disorder, and certified that he did not have any psychological constraints holding him back from a SRS. In India, a diagnosis of gender identity disorder is a pre-requisite for a SRS. He underwent some medical procedures to align his body with his true gender identity. On the basis of this operation and the affidavit, he obtained an Aadhar card in his true gender with a male name. The facts state that the petitioner then sent a representation to the respondents to change his name and sex in his educational records. Neither in the petition nor in the judgment do the facts reveal the contents of this representation. In order words, it is unclear whether the petitioner sent the certificate of psychiatric evaluation and the SRS certificate in the representation package. However, arguably he did, especially because the petition highlights that the respondents’ refusal to change his certificates causes grave inconvenience to the petitioner “who has undergone sex re-assignment surgery and changed his name and gender from that assigned at birth.” [writ petitioner page 8-9 and 11].
While the Pre-University Department did not reply, the Higher Secondary Education department replied to the representation stating that it would need a court order to proceed with this request. Accordingly, the petitioner filed a writ of mandamus praying that the court direct the PU Department and the SSLC department to issue new educational certificates to the petition reflecting his true gender and name.
2. ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES
The petitioner alleged that the respondents’ refusal to change his name and gender to male violated his right to life, equality, gender identity, dignity, and privacy under Article 14, 15, 19(1)(a) and 21. The State did not oppose the petition but stated that the representation of the petitioner will be decided on the basis of the law, after considering the requisite documents and supporting evidence accompanying of the request.
3. HOLDING OF THE COURT
The court directed the Education Department to issue circulars to educational institutions regarding the directions issued in the NALSA decision and take necessary steps to have them implemented “in an expedite manner” [para 9 of the judgment].
4. RIGHT TO PRIVACY ARGUMENT
The petitioner argued that the inaction of the respondents was a violation of the right to privacy of the petitioner because he had to constantly keep revealing his previous gender as a female until the change is made [writ petition, page 10]
5. SRS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM
It is evident from the petition that the petitioner had sent his SRS certificate and psychological evaluation certificate along with other materials in support of his representation for name and gender change. As per NALSA, the petitioner need not have sent these documents. It is unclear on what basis the court directs the Department of Education to review the representation made by the petition, but even if the petitioner sends in such documents, the courts must not rely on them because:
- The insistence on SRS has been ruled illegal and unethical in NALSA. Therefore, even if a petitioner has undergone SRS of his own volition and submitted those documents, the courts must categorically refuse to rely on that certificate to grant the relief. The relief must be granted on the fact that in NALSA, the Supreme Court had stated that self-determined gender identity is a fundamental right under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21, and that the court did not require anyone to undergo SRS to claim this right.
- The need for psychological examinations has also arguably been negatived in NALSA because:
- the Supreme Court stated that the right to a self-determined gender is a fundamental right with which the State cannot interfere, and a psychological exam would count as interference. (NALSA, page 78). Additionally, the court stated that the gender identity claim was based not on medical or surgical procedure, but on self-determination, and a psychological process would count as medical process. In fact, this finding of the court was based on Principle 3 of the Yogyakarta principles which in full state that, “no person may be forced to undergo any form of medical or psychological treatment, procedure or testing…based on gender identity.” [NALSA, pages 18-19, 85]
- Within the personal autonomy protection of Article 21 is included a positive right to a self-determined gender and a negative right to resist interference by others, and a psychological exam would count as interference (NALSA, page 80-81).
- In NALSA, the Supreme Court has stated that “determination of gender to which a person belongs is to be decided by the person concerned.” [NALSA, page 84].
- The court does not identify a role for a psychologist/psychiatrist in the entire NALSA judgment.
My thanks to Upasana Garnaik for telling me about this case.