In perhaps a first in the country, the state transport department has included an 'Others' box in the applications for driving licences, in effect enabling transgenders to apply for DLs under their very own identity and not, as has been the contrived practice so far, as either 'male' or 'female'.

The state government's decision has kicked off celebrations among the 40,000-plus community, which sees it as a vindication of its persistent lobbying with the authorities to make citizens' entitlements gender-neutral. In fact, Bangalore Mirror had earlier this year highlighted the lead taken by the corporate sector in this regard (' 'Other' gender now gets a box to tick on in recruitment forms', Feb 24).

"We scored a hoop when we voted as 'Others' for the first time in the assembly elections in May this year. Usually, male-to-female transgenders are categorised as `females', despite our demand for a separate identity. Now, the transport department has responded positively," said a sexual minorities activist.

The new applications for driving licences will come into effect from October 7, when the transport department switches over to the online format for its services. According to transport department officials, the driving licences obtained by transgenders can be used as proof of identity as well as address across the state, and will be useful when applying for other government benefits.

Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, a top official from the transport department said, "Some RTOs have already been issuing DLs to transgenders. But hitherto they were marked internally as 'Category C', which sometimes created confusion. By including a separate box marked 'Others' in the application form, we have not only acknowledged their civil rights but also put an end to the confusion."

An ecstatic Akkai Padmashali, a leading sexual minorities activist in the city, said, "This is something historic and a major milestone in our fight for our own identity. This is for the first time in the country that transgenders will effectively be issued DLs as transgenders. We had requested the government several times to consider us as a separate gender. Though the previous D V Sadananda Gowda government had expressed its willingness, nothing concrete happened. At least now, the government has taken a positive step in honouring our identity."

Dwelling on the practice so far, Akkai said, "For those interested in obtaining DLs, we would advise them to identify themselves as 'male' or 'female'. But the decision backfired in several instances when the candidates appeared for medical tests, and the outcome was not only annoying but traumatic at times. Humiliating experiences like these have now come to an end with the state government allowing a separate entry for us."

Explaining the rationale for the government's move, transport minister Ramalinga Reddy said, "Today, they (transgenders) are not inferior to anybody. In fact, they have been considered for jobs in places like the High Court, government offices and private establishments. This being the case, we felt it was high time their identity was acknowledged and hence we took the decision. There is nothing wrong in it. They can avail the department's services starting from October 7."

Looking to the future, Aravind Narrain, an advocate and an activist with Alternative Law Forum, said, "We welcome the decision, which will definitely help sexual minorities in the long run. People identify themselves in different ways and all of us should recognise this. Then again, there are other laws which have only male/female categories - will the government amend these laws too to accommodate transgenders as a separate gender? In a law like the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Domestic Violence Act, the victim is postulated as a woman. Will the government consider amending a law like this so as to include transgenders as victims of such crimes? There is obviously a long way to go yet."

Bangalore University took a decision in July to reserve one seat in its post-graduate courses for transgenders. In fact, BU's application forms since 2009 have had a provision for 'Others' in the gender column, and the university went one step further with the P-G reservation. Apart from corporates who have introduced 'Others' and 'Not specified' boxes in the gender column of their job application forms, some private banks like ICICI Bank have a provision for 'Others' in their account opening forms. The UIDAI's Aadhaar enrolment forms clearly mention 'transgender' along with 'male' and 'female'.

A joint policy brief by the Chennai-based Centre for Sexuality and Health Research and Policy (CSHaRP) and Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum made a telling point on the lacunae in the stillevolving transgender laws in India. The brief states: "Sex change in legal documents of India (just like in many countries) is discussed only within a binary gender model (from male to female or from female to male). The needs of communities who clearly do not want to fit into either of these genders remain unexplored." On the issue of changing the gender in official government documents, Tamil Nadu took the lead by establishing a Transgender Welfare Board. However, there was progress thereafter as no government order was issued. Legal experts have advocated a medical certificate of sex change, but in India most transgenders who undergo male-to-female surgery through emasculation get it done by quacks. Since there is no law on emasculation, qualified medical surgeons take a consent letter from transgenders to the effect that they are undergoing the operation because they have cancer of the male genitalia. Thus, they cannot give a certificate of gender change.

Bangalore Mirror