The government of India made a landmark ruling that creates a third gender category for transgender people on Tuesday, declaring they can take up the newly recognized identity for all official government-related business.
The Associated Press reports that the move will affect 3 million individuals
in the country who have acquired the physical attributes of the opposite sex or who present themselves differently from their birth sex.
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"Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," said Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan. "Transgenders are citizens of this country and are entitled to education and all other rights."
The ruling comes in response to a National Legal Services Authority suit that said the previously existing law, which denied official documents to the group, deprived them of basic human rights.
"The spirit of the (Indian) Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion, or gender," the ruling read.
According to The New York Times
, "For centuries, the transgender community has occupied a singular place in Indian culture. In the past, many were eunuchs, called hijras, a Hindi term for belonging to neither gender, who served as sexless watchdogs of Mughal harems. Today, many people who identify as transgender, even the many who are not castrated, are regarded with suspicion and ridicule, and are thought to possess powers of sorcery by some."
Many transgendered people in India live in poverty, often singing, dancing, or participating in prostitution to get by. They are frequently hired to dance at weddings, where their presence is viewed as bringing good fortune.
Outside of these limited roles, they are oftentimes refused services at hospitals and other vital venues. The new law will formalize their status, making it equal to the male and female gender roles, and giving them equal access to healthcare, education, and more. The court also ordered the other branches of government to create public awareness campaigns about the new status, which is likely to help destigmatize transgendered people.
India is not the first country to recognize a third gender, as Nepal and Bangladesh both created third categories in 2007 and 2013, respectively.
Relevant to the new ruling is the Indian Supreme Court's reversal of a Delhi court's 2009 ruling that decriminalized homosexual acts. It is unclear on which side of that law transgender people will fall when having consensual sex.
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