In an iconic move to end discrimination against the third gender, the Centre has issued guidelines to ensure that the third gender or transgender community is allowed access to public and community toilets of their choice. The circular issued on April 3, entitles the so called ‘other’ gender to avail a restroom in accordance to the gender they identify with, that is, they can now avail a restroom meant for men or women.
The circular by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation provided an advisory to all state governments stating, “In many communities, the third gender may often be dissociated from the mainstream. ‘Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen’ (SBM-G) should make a conscious effort that they are recognised as equal citizens and users of toilets. They should be allowed to use the facility of their choice (men or women) in the community or public toilets.”
In a liberal plea for inclusion of the third gender within the mainstream, the circular further stated, “Wherever suitable, their support can be enlisted in engaging communities, and their efforts duly recognised and honoured to break any stigma around them and also to enable them to use facilities without any embarrassment.”
Though the breaking news came as a positive legal reinforcement to many, not everyone had a reason to cheer. A practising advocate at the Calcutta High Court, who didn’t want to be named, debated the merits of a ‘bathroom’ bill to overturn the entire socio-political scenario for the transgender community. He said, “No legislation can be effective to change a mindset. At best it will give a legal opportunity to compete as a transgender. A legal status does not always ensure a social status, how will they (the legislature) enforce the rights of a transgender to visit the restroom of his/her choice if the public objects? If that happens, what will be the preventive and enforceable remedy? The only remedy is punitive and that too, either against persons unknown or the Municipal Corporation or the owner/lessee of the mall or the multiplex. So it is a gesture. True positive step would have been to repeal Article 377 and amend it only to penalize sex with children (with child being strictly defined) and sex with animals.”
A member of the LGBT community, Sourish Samanta agreed to lend his opinion on the bill as an individual irrespective of the community. He grunted as he talked about the extreme skepticism surrounding the bill, however saying, “Well, when it comes to individuals, it is all about the convenience for them.” The treatment of the issue and ultimately the concerned gender should be “normalised”, only then can a gender-sensitive environment be conceived wherein the bill’s purpose can effectively thrive. “I think it will take some time to settle in. But since the bill has already been passed, it will soon be okay, eventually,” he added.
A living paradox or a right step?
A day after the circular was issued by the Centre, the Madras High Court on April 6, directed the Tamil Nadu government to build exclusive public toilets and bathrooms for the third gender in parts of the city where they live in large numbers. In a PIL filed by Devarajan, he urged the state government to build public toilets cum bathrooms exclusively for the third gender residing in large numbers, particularly at Tondiarpet, Choolaimedu, Pulianthope and Saidapet.
An order was passed on the PIL by Acting Chief Justice Huluvadi G Ramesh and Justice Teekaa Raman. The order said, “Since larger issue is involved in this matter, we hereby direct the petitioner to take survey and submit a report facilitating the department to take appropriate steps to build exclusive public toilets-cum-bathroom for third genders where more number of third genders is living.”
The petitioner claims that he had previously sent a representation regarding the same, but in vain. However, this time he remains hopeful. The matter is posted to July 5.
The West Way
Meanwhile, North Carolina in the United States revoked the costly and controversial ‘Bathroom Bill’ in a desperate business oriented bid. The bill originally required transgenders to avail toilets in correspondence to the ‘sex’ on their birth certificate and not the ‘gender’. The bill also encroached on the protective measures for the LGBT community by disabling ‘any other municipal governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances.’
The House Bill 2 or ‘Bathroom Bill’ was nullified in part due to bad business deals and boycotts, and hasn’t witnessed many happy takers in the US.
Cecil Brockman, a LGBTQ lawmaker in North Carolina’s legislature said, “This harmful and discriminatory law has been a disaster for North Carolina, damaging both our economy and reputation on the national stage.”
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Is this the welcoming change the LGBT community awaited, or is it just a hoax? A law, is the necessary enforcer of a social conditioning in the making, however it is not and cannot be the only step. Just how many of our approved bills are executed with the same purpose as to which they were created in the first place? Take the Dowry Prohibition Act for instance, that makes it illegal to take dowry anywhere in India except Jammu and Kashmir. That however has not solved the root cause of the unfortunate dowry incidents that haunts India. In a country where homosexuality is essentially criminalised, feminism frowned upon and women’s studies centres being aggresively shut down, it will take much more than a ‘bathroom’ bill to enact the desired change on a grassroot level. The inclusive measure to recognise the third gender as a part of the mainstream society, has received a lukewarm response stating ‘safety’ issues. Several believe that this will give a free pass to sexual predators who will make use of the situation. Well, only time will tell if this bill is a success or just another bill that will be manipulated against the very people it is supposed to help.