Inclusive Education: TN Govt to Cover Higher Education Costs for Transgender Community

In the 2024-2025 budget speech, Finance Minister Thangam Thennarasu allocated an additional Rs 2 crore to the Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board and pledged to cover all educational expenses for transgender students pursuing higher education.
Pic source- IndiaTimes
Pic source- IndiaTimes

Chennai: In a moment of celebration for the transgender community in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) seems to be fulfilling its commitment to support the community educationally.

Finance Minister Thangam Thennarassu announced, while presenting the budget for 2024-25, the state government is taking a “proactive step” to support transgender individuals in their pursuit of higher education.

As part of this initiative, the government will cover both tuition and hostel expenses for the community students with an aim to help cross financial barriers that generally hinder their educational aspirations.

According to local media, while talking about the obstacles faced by the community, the minister remarked, “At present, only a limited number of transgender individuals are pursuing higher education in Tamil Nadu.”

He said to address the concern, the government will cover all educational expenses, including tuition and hostel fees, for transgenders who want to pursue higher education.

The minister further announced an allocation of an additional Rs 2 crore to the Transgender Welfare Board. This financial provision, according to him, is intended to facilitate the implementation of the program — ensuring that transgenders have access to educational opportunities without the burden of associated costs.

Thennarassu emphasized on the pivotal role of higher education in enhancing the socio-economic status and overall success of the community.

He said the budget places emphasis on seven fundamental pillars: social justice, the welfare of marginalized groups, the empowerment of young Tamils to excel globally, the establishment of a knowledge-based economy, gender equality with a specific focus on women's well-being, the promotion of a sustainable and eco-friendly future and the preservation and promotion of Tamil language and culture.

Kalki Subramanium, an artist and transgender activist from the state, had recently discussed the backwardness the community still faces. 

Talking to The Mooknayak, the activist had said, “We are one of the only few communities in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum who are beggars and sex-workers. We are often disowned by our family members. Our community is still economically, educationally and socially deprived.” 

Vignesh, an MBBS student and activist from the Kothi community of the state, welcomed the step by the government. “It’s a  good idea, but we still have to wait for the details and see how it pans out,” he said.

He said the government needs to specify courses and institutions it is going to cover.

“There are few government colleges in the state that have seats reserved for the transgender students. Only time will tell if the step is meant for both public and private institutions,” he said.

Since there is no clear-cut horizontal reservation in the state, said Vignesh, many transgender students might end up with cisgender students in private colleges. 

Pic source- IndiaTimes
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“If even then their educational expenses would be taken care of, it would be of great help,” he said.

Identification has always been an issue for the community members in the nation. Highlighting possible hindrances, the student added, “There is a necessity to issue more Transgender Identity Cards. The ID cards issued by the state are an easy process, and the cards can be collected from the collectorate’s office.”

“But,” the activist added, “such cards issued by the Central government through the SMILE programme are still a hassle. 

The number of registrations at the central government’s website is much more than the number of cards that are being issued, he added.

“There are multiple trans students who are yet to receive identification cards owing to multiple discrepancies. It will be of much help if the state could also aid the students towards accessing the identifications,” Vignesh suggested.

According to a report by Bar and Bench, the government has so far identified 7,574 transgenders in the state so far. Of them, 6,553 have been issued ID cards.

SMILE Scheme and its Accessibility

The Support for Marginalised Individuals for Livelihood & Enterprise (SMILE) scheme aims to provide support and protection to transgenders in India. It is supposed to issue ID cards within 30 days, in addition to promoting awareness, sensitivity training and economic support programs for trans and non-binary individuals.

As part of the initiative, the government is obligated to process transgender certificates within a 30-day timeframe.

However, given that access to gender-affirming care in India can take up to four months, delays in the process mean certain applicants may face a wait of up to six months to access hormones.

Statistics from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, shared in response to a query by Lok Sabha MP Jayadev Galla in December 2023, revealed that over 3,200 applications were waiting for more than 30 days to receive a transgender certificate and ID card.

The data also indicated that the government had received a total of 24,115 applications in late 2023 and issued 15,800 certificates.

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Pic source- IndiaTimes
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Pic source- IndiaTimes
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