Reservation for women in Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) has caused a serious unrest in the state of Nagaland in the north-eastern region of India. Women’s groups in Nagaland have been leading a struggle for 33 per cent reservation in the local bodies on the grounds of gender equality. On the other hand, tribal bodies and groups (consisting mostly of men!) including the Naga Hoho (the apex body of all 18 tribes in the state) and the Joint Coordination Committee of tribals (JCC) have been opposed to the demand on the grounds that granting 33 per cent reservation for women would violate Naga customary laws and tradition as protected under Article 371(A) of the Constitution of India. Thus, customary laws and the notion of gender equality have been pitted against each other. This calls for serious examination of customary laws and the demand for reservation.
In July 2016, Railway Police Force (RPF) personnel arrested three trans women (male-to-female transgender persons) at a railway station in Kolkata, West Bengal. When a transgender activist contacted the RPF official about the arrests, the official told her that they were not ‘real’ hijras, and dressed up merely to beg for money. He said he could prove they were ‘artificial’ by stripping them and revealing that they had male genitalia. The activist tried to inform him about the 2014 Supreme Court judgment on transgender rights (‘NALSA vs. Union of India’, or the NALSA judgment in short), which states that one need not undergo surgical transition to be considered transgender, but the cop said he didn’t want to get into such legalities. This tendency of distinguishing between ‘fake’ and ‘real’ hijras or trans persons based on genitals is an old one: to give just another example, back in July 2012, the Times of India reported that four ‘fake eunuchs’ had been arrested near Kanpur after being medically examined and found to be ‘men’.
At 77, Chapal Bhaduri is arguably Bengali folk theatre’s last living female impersonator, traversing and transgressing genders effortlessly and almost unthinkingly from his teenage. The youngest child of theatre artists, he was put on stage around the age of 8, but began his distinctive career in female impersonation in 1955 when he played Marjina in a production of Alibaba, and slowly attained fame as the highest paid ‘theatre actress’ by the 1960s. A decade or so later, however, Bhaduri’s preeminence as a female impersonator began to fade as women started entering the acting profession even in jatra, traditionally a male-dominated community.
Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force of the Indian government established in 1835, has set up its first women contingent. The 181-year-old paramilitary force inducted 100 women officers within its fold after they successfully completed a year-long training programme. However, the said development has taken place at a time when there has been little progress in the case of Thangjam Manorama.
Safe, affordable and informed access to gender affirming procedures is a fundamental human reproductive health right. This basic right extends to self-determining which gender transitioning procedures feel safe, feel affirming (and for how long) within a context that is not medically coercive, manipulative and ultimately harmful.