Mumbai: “At the end of 2019, when I was travelling to Greece, I was made to wait for 15 minutes at the immigration counter because the officer there didn’t know what to identify me as. I was wearing jeans and a blazer, so they assumed I was a Mr. But, I don’t identify as Mr, I use Mx. On other days, when I am wearing a sari, those at the counter decide to use the title Ms for me. Do I not have an identity? My passport says I am a transgender, but the same airports which are run by the same government refuse to identify me as I am,” said Dhananjay Chauhan, a non-official member of the Transgender Welfare Board Chandigarh.
“When I book flight tickets, I use Ms because I am not given an option to identify myself. Why are we discriminated against? Sadly, this is the case not only in India, but across the world,” they added.
As we all celebrated Pride last month, Chauhan’s experience is yet another reminder of how the world at large is hardly an inclusive space for the LGBTQIA+ community. For a long time, members of India’s nearly three million-strong transgender community have been an oppressed minority, and things have not necessarily gotten progressively better with time – last year, the government passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, a legislation which does the community more harm than good. The community has had to file petition after petition for something as basic as the right to self-identification.
Last month, Indrajeet Ghorpade, a member of the community, started an online petition on Change.org to make airline booking forms inclusive of all the genders. The demands say that apart from the usual Mr and Ms, an option of Mx should be added to the form.
“The Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act mentions that transgender persons should not be denied or unfairly treated with regard to the right to movement and access to services. All airlines in India violate this Act,” reads the petition.
Ghorpade said that they had approached some airlines last year, but were turned down on the grounds that there is no international guideline in place to consider this demand. “I decided to start this petition because a lot of people do not want to identify themselves under the gender binaries. In that case, they don’t fit into the male-female or the lady-lord title in the airline booking forms. There has to be a third option,” said Ghorpade.
The online petition has already garnered support from more than 25,000 people. The petition has been addressed to the nodal officers of Indian-based airlines, which include Vistara, Air India and Go Air, among others. However, when this reporter reached out to these airlines, none of them agreed to comment on the petition.
According to Ghorpade, he has also sent emails to the officers on behalf of the community. “I received an acknowledgment from IndiGo and Vistara that they have received the email and would get back to me – but we don’t know how long that would take,” said Ghorpade.
There’s a lot more that can be done than just creating a new section in the forms currently available. “I have used the title Ms always, so I haven’t faced this problem. But the issue is larger than just adding the title. If the title is added, then there needs to be provisions for a separate security check for transgender persons done by the members from the community. There should also be gender neutral washrooms. That way, we would be able to generate employment opportunities for transgender persons,” said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender rights activist and Bharatanatyam dancer.
Last year, a few international airlines last year made changes to their policies. Air Canada announced that flight staff will no longer address passengers by saying ‘ladies and gentlemen’, but would say ‘everybody’. Similarly, American Airlines and United Airlines, offer customers the Mx option while booking flights.
Four years ago, the Indian Railways updated its booking forms to add transgender as an available gender option for booking tickets.
A similar option of identifying themselves is available for some community members in educational institutions such as Mumbai University, Panjab University, and Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, among others.
In 2014, the Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India declared transgender to be the ‘third gender’, and affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the constitution would be equally applicable to trans persons, and gave them the right to self-identification.
But the judgement is far from being practised in its true sense in the country An advocacy group, Humsafar Trust, which works with the community, started an online petition this year, demanding civil rights. It has demanded recognition of same sex marriage, adoption and inheritance rights for the community, among other civil rights.
Yesha Kotak is a Mumbaikar, reporter and fitness freak – in that order – who can always be found wearing heels. In for a healthy debate on politics, communities and issues of Mumbai.
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