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India’s Supreme Court recognises transgender people as third gender

India’s Supreme Court has delivered a landmark judgment creating a third gender category that allows transgendered people to identify themselves as such on official documents.  Prior to the judgment, transgendered people in India had to identify themselves as either male or female. 

The Supreme Court ordered the government to include transgendered people in all welfare programmes for the poor, including education and jobs.  Justice KS Radhakrishan, who headed the two-judge Supreme Court bench, stated:
‘Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but  a human rights issue…….The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”

The judgment has been welcomed by activists who say it will give relief to millions of people who face discrimination in India’s conservative society.  According to one estimate, there are about three million transgender people in India.  Campaigners say that transgendered people live on the fringes of society, often in poverty, and earn a living by singing and dancing or by begging and prostitution.

More commentary on the judgment can be read here.

On a less positive note, the same Supreme Court issued a decision in December last year which criminalised gay sex by reversing a landmark 2009 Delhi High Court order which had decriminalised homosexual acts. 

Activists hope however that this ruling on transgendered people will encourage the new parliament (national elections currently taking place) to repeal the anti-homosexuality law.