Queer and Trans Community Pushes for Representation in Electoral Politics

The Delhi unit of the SFI is all set to include queer community’s demands in the manifesto, which it will hand over to various parties — asking them to include in their final manifesto.
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New Delhi: Electoral politics seldom appeal to the queer and trans community of the nation, apparently due to the fact that they often lack representation for the folks. This election season, Student’s Federation of India (SFI) has decided to change the rules of the game.

On March 3, the Delhi unit of SFI conducted a General Body Meeting (GBM) of youth under 25 years of age who identify as themselves queer. This marks as one of the few initiatives, which are aimed at attempting to include the community in electoral politics.

More than 30 individuals attended the meeting, with students joining from various universities in the national capital — including the Delhi University, the Ambedkar University, the Jamia Millia Islamia and the O.P Jindal University. The gathering convened at HKO Bhawan at the city's ITO for discussion.

Points from the GBM will find its mention in the Student’s Manifesto prepared by SFI, which will then be taken to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — urging them include the concerns in the respective poll manifestos.

Mehina Fatima, who moderated the meeting, asserted the importance of including the queer community in political parties’ manifesto.

“During the marriage equality hearing, the Supreme Court said that it was up to Parliament to decide for the community. It is of utmost importance that at this juncture, the queer community is brought together to voice out their demands in a very political manner by linking it to mainstream politics. Our lives have been political. Until and unless we make our demands heard and make it a part of electoral politics, we will not get anything,” she told The Mooknayak.

The student leader further talked about how difficult it was to bring people on board for the meeting. 

She noted that reaching out to queer collectives via e-mails was relatively straightforward. However, persuading them to openly engage in discussions about party politics, which is a highly public activity, proved challenging as many were uncomfortable with it.

The primary fact, which came up in the meeting, is the lack of data. There is a need to conduct surveys in all educational institutions for formal recording of the number of transgender students, getting enrolled in higher education and the dropout rate among them.

In 2017, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted a survey on the educational status of the third genders in Delhi. The findings revealed that only 15.12% of transgender individuals had completed 10-12th standard education, with 5.33% holding a graduation or postgraduate degree.

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A reply in the Lok Sabha in 2019 indicated that no transgender students were enrolled in central universities, except for 814 at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) over the past five years. No transgender teaching or non-teaching staff were reported in central universities nationwide.

Since then, there has been no updated data on enrolment of transgender persons in higher education in the national capital.

A 2023 survey in Pune found zero transgender students in nine of the top 10 institutes of the city, except for the Savitribai Phule Pune University, which had 41 transgender students.

The discussion raised several issues that the queer community wishes the government to acknowledge and address the following issues:

Infrastructural Support: Establishing reserved hostels for queer and transgender students in all educational institutions has always been one of the many demands raised by them.

Reservation in Existing Fellowships and Scholarships: Trans students demanded that an improvement in the implementation of current national and centrally-sponsored scholarships be made for them and allocate 1% horizontal reservation for transgender students in existing national fellowships.

The list states that rather than restructuring, the focus should be on advocating for more effective implementation of these specialized scholarships. The low enrolment of transgender students in universities, despite available scholarships, highlights the urgent need for improved implementation.

Existing scholarships by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment provide financial aid to transgender students in classes IX and above, spanning secondary school to post-graduation. Accessible through an online system, these scholarships cover secondary and senior secondary education, undergraduate/diploma studies and post-graduation.

A centrally-sponsored post-matric scholarship scheme further supports transgender students at the post-matriculation or post-secondary stage.

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Gender-Sensitization Workshops: The community has asked for mandatory gender sensitisation workshops for students, teaching and non-teaching staff in educational institutions every year, with emphasis on LGBTQIA+ identity and experience.

The Saksham guidelines currently require gender sensitization for all members of educational institutions, including students, faculty, administration and non-teaching staff. However, the implementation of these guidelines is deemed weak, particularly concerning the experiences of queer students.

Section 6.3 of the guidelines, emphasizing gender sensitization, is identified as a weak aspect in the functioning of committees and cells on higher education institution campuses. IIT Delhi has taken steps to make attendance at diversity-focused sensitization workshops mandatory for both students and teachers.

Additionally, the Centre for Law and Policy Research has produced a comprehensive report on the inclusion of transgender children in schools, serving as a valuable resource to promote awareness and understanding of effective integration in various educational institutes.

Sex and Adolescent Education Classes: 

Sex and adolescent education classes are very important to gain awareness about the different sexual and gender minorities.

The Adolescent Education Programme (AEP), now known as the National Adolescent Health Programme or Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram, was initially introduced in 2007 by the MHRD and NACO but faced a ban due to protests over its content.

In 2009, it was relaunched with a focus on life skills in over 5,000 schools, yet it lacks explicit emphasis on the rights of queer students. The curriculum covers crucial SRHR topics but does not address sex or pleasure and overlooks gender identities as social constructs.

The National Adolescent Health Mission (RKSK), launched in 2014, includes peer educators focused on five priority areas. Advocates argue for an expansion of this program to meet the specific needs of queer students.

Additionally, there is a call for the introduction of queer affirmative mental health counselors in universities to ensure the well-being of queer students.

Implementing and Formulating Anti-Ragging Policy: Students have called for a mandate to update the 2016 anti-ragging policy in educational institutions and to Reformulate UGC Promotion of Equity in HEI Regulations (Anti-Discrimination policy) to be more alert about the negative experiences of queer students in educational institutions.

Implementation of the Policy: The 2016 amendment to the University Grants Commission’s anti-ragging policy recognizes sexuality and gender as valid grounds for ragging in educational institutions.

The amendment broadens the definition to include any act of physical or mental abuse based on various factors, including gender and sexual orientation.

Despite the amendment, numerous universities have either not adopted it or, if they have, failed to implement it by creating awareness among students and teachers.

Notably, three universities in Kerala have updated their policies, serving as an example for all central universities to ensure safe spaces for queer students.

Reformulation of the Policy: The UGC’s Anti-discrimination policy does not explicitly include sexuality as a basis for discrimination. While the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act primarily focuses on protecting aggrieved women, the Calcutta High Court has recognized same-gender sexual harassment, interpreting the act in a gender-affirmative manner.

The UGC guidelines cover sexual harassment broadly, applicable across genders.

Despite the lack of explicit inclusion, specific universities, like IGNOU and the University of Mumbai, have implemented inclusive measures, such as fee waivers and gender-inclusive facilities.

Representation in University-formed Bodies: Representation of at least one queer person in the ICCs of educational institutions and implementation GS-CASH has been mentioned in the Queer Manifesto.

Though not explicitly mandated, Saksham guidelines underscore the importance of addressing sexuality-related issues in educational settings.

Emphasizing the need for an educational and sensitization approach, the guidelines highlight that university years often mark individuals’ first exploration of questions regarding sexual orientation and identity. The guidelines stress the responsibility of Institutional Complaints Committees (ICCs) in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to discuss sexuality and the rights of sexual minorities.

Administrative Support for Queer Collectives: The UGC should extend support provisions to student-led queer collectives, mirroring the administrative aid provided to underfunded women's development cells.

Horizontal Reservation for Trans Students: The 2014 NALSA judgment granted transgender persons the right to reservation, recognizing them as socially and educationally backward. Realizing the importance of said reservation, the manifesto has included it as one of the important demands.

Karnataka became the first state in 2021 to implement a 1% horizontal reservation for transgender individuals in public employment.

Most recently, on January 9, 2024, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to consider implementing a 1% horizontal reservation for the transgender community in education and public employment across all caste categories in the state.

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