The Assam state government approved a draft policy for the welfare of the state’s transgender community. The state will now have its own transgender welfare board to make efforts for the upliftment of the community, by providing reservations in educational institutions, medical facilities, empowerment and fight discrimination among others.
Activist Swati Bidhan Baruah, the state’s first judge from the transgender community, has been at the forefront of the struggle to get the draft policy approved for nearly a year. She told The Wire that the approval by the state government means that Assam’s transgender community will now have a proper platform to express their grievances. This will help integrate the community, which has been forced to living on the fringes of mainstream society, Baruah said.
On March 2, 2019, the social welfare department of the state government issued a notice saying, “The government of Assam has formulated a draft policy for the transgenders living in the state on a rights-based framework in consonance with the judgment of the Supreme Court (NALSA V/S The Union of India and others). The draft policy is placed in the public domain with a request to stakeholders and other interested persons to submit inputs and suggestions if any within 15 days of the issue of notice. Objections and suggestions which may be received from any persons/ NGO stakeholders with respect to the said draft policy before the expiry of the period specified above will be given due considerations by the government before the finalization of the state transgender policy.”
The draft policy was penned by Kaushar Hilali, who was the commissioner of disability in the social welfare department, along with important inputs and required materials provided by Baruah. It defined equality for transpersons as, “Equally along with other people in the society, Transgender persons (TGs) also have constitutional rights to enjoy all the facilities and privileges. They have unique needs but are ignored by the society which prevents them from realizing the equal rights and are forced to live as second-class citizens in their own country and that is why they are lagging behind from the rest of the community. They face injustice at every turn- in their families and homes, in school systems, workplaces, at the markets and shops, hotels and restaurants, hospitals, emergency rooms, ambulances and at the hands of landlords, police station, traffics, etc.”
The draft policy also described the functions of a transgender welfare board, including that it would have the responsibility of implementation and monitoring programs for the social, political and economic development of the transgender community. It will also “constitute a committee for the verification of the application for the issue of gender identity certificate, to set up and monitor Transgender Support and Crisis Intervention Centers on the model of Rape and Crisis Intervention Centers with its ability to undertake counseling programs and mental health issues from that affect the transgender community and others.”
Baruah said that the draft policy was prepared in January 2019. “It was made available online by March of that year for public inputs. The policy was tabled before the cabinet in December 2019, but was left pending because of the ongoing anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) agitation,” she said.
“But now it has been approved and it is a historic moment for the transgender community. Assam maybe the sixth or seventh state in the country with a government-approved draft policy for the transgender community,” Baruah added.