A trans* community hearing organized last week in Kolkata captured numerous grievances and complaints of government inaction across West Bengal. Pawan Dhall reports

Kolkata, November 5, 2017: A comprehensive transgender policy for the state of West Bengal, expectations around greater accountability from the West Bengal Transgender Development Board (WBTDB), and concerns around a reported move by the government to ban transgender women from soliciting money against blessings (chhalla) at traffic lights were among issues highlighted at a trans* community hearing today at the Lokayata Samaj Trust Auditorium on Ripon Street in Central Kolkata.

Transgender activist Aparna Banerjee, also a member of the WBTDB and one of the event organizers, informed: “The transgender policy will aim to cover health, gender transition, education and scholarships, employment, insurance, marriage, divorce and adoption concerns of the trans* communities in the state.” The community hearing also took up the issue of nomination of names for the district cells of the WBTDB, a key element to make the board’s functioning more effective.

Quote: It should be noted that West Bengal was one of the first states in India to set up a development board for trans* communities. But more than two years down the line, the board’s functioning and response to the challenges faced by the trans* communities continues to belie expectations and often evokes severe criticism.Organized by transgender and other gender variant communities in Kolkata, the daylong event saw participation from across the state. A media release issued by the organizers said the common refrain throughout the event was repeated and diverse forms of human rights violations on the basis of preferred or perceived gender identity, gender expression and sexuality, and near-absent redress mechanisms. Such a sorry state of affairs was what prompted the community hearing.

Indeed, more than three years have gone by since the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed its landmark judgment in the National Legal Services Authority Vs. Union of India & Others case, popularly known as the NALSA verdict. A division bench of the apex court, comprised of Justices K. S. Radhakrishnan and A. K. Sikri, not only affirmed the Fundamental Rights and freedoms of transgender individuals but also upheld every Indian citizen’s right to self-determine their gender identity without having to undergo any form of feminization or masculinization, including surgical methods for gender transition.

This was followed by the formation of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board under the leadership of Dr. Shashi Panja, Women and Child Development and Social Welfare Minister of West Bengal. The board was set up to formulate inclusive transgender policies and social welfare schemes that would help reduce stigma faced by transgender and other gender variant individuals and promote greater socio-economic inclusion of these communities.

Yet, the communities still suffered grave atrocities and different forms of socio-economic exclusion. In the recent past, a number of transgender individuals reported facing discrimination in educational institutions, health care facilities, workplaces, public spaces and their natal homes. To make matters worse, redress mechanisms were not in place, and more often than not, the victims were subjected to further harassment and ridicule by the police and legal functionaries.

It should be noted here that West Bengal was one of the first states in India to set up a development board for trans* communities. But more than two years down the line, the board’s functioning and response to the challenges faced by the trans* communities continues to belie expectations and often evokes severe criticism.

A number of narratives shared by transgender and other gender variant individuals were documented (with informed consent) during the community hearing. These would be compiled along with a list of recommendations for submission to the WBTDB for their consideration. It remains to be seen if the board’s response would be any different from what it has been so far.

Main graphic credit: Pawan Dhall (graphic based on Clip Art by Microsoft Office).