Every time people see those from the third gender asking for money in trains, public spaces or buses, many different thoughts cross the mind. For some, it is attached to a superstition which means obtaining blessings for a small sum of money while others see it as extortion of sorts and choose to dismiss them. Last year, in a welcome move, the Delhi government approached transgender people to advise women on safety while using public transport. Following this, a suggestion has been made to the Punjab government, which might make Punjab the first state to hire the third gender as conductors or security officers in Buses.
From traffic rules to being helpful to people and winning hearts, the society can always learn a lesson or two from the gender which has long been neglected.
Many "rational" thinkers feel that transgender people should work for a living and few even insult them while refusing to give money. But what no one sees is the bigger picture. No one, not even the third gender, gets pleasure from having to sacrifice their dignity and integrity to ask for money in public. The harsh truth is that they are forced to do so.
The blatant discrimination, fueled by archaic perceptions attached to the gender identity, leaves transgenders with little choice or opportunity to earn an honest and dignified living in India. Such conditions, in addition to poverty, leave them with no other option for survival.
Against all odds
While there have been people from the third gender who have made their way to the top against all odds, be it in politics or in educational institutions, this is just a good start to a long journey ahead.
Punjab has been facing a crisis as far as women's security in public transport is concerned. The incident of a girl and her mother being thrown off a bus by the conductor, for resisting molestation, showed the gravity of the situation. In his suggestion, state traffic adviser Navdeep Asija, said that women have traditionally felt more secure around transgender people and they are also physically strong enough to tackle any situation.
The transgender community makes up roughly two per cent of the total population in Punjab. In 2010, the state created a separate category in government application forms for the third gender.
Asija, an IIT-Delhi alumnus, says that the proposal is in line with the Supreme Court's instruction by which "equal opportunity should be given to every citizen for growth and attaining their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender". The judgment gave quotas for transgender people in education as well.