The transgender community remains one of the most marginalized communities, discriminated against on a daily basis because of their gender identity. The community repeatedly faces hurdles within the legal system in several differing ways. The members of the trans-community do not have access to sensitive lawyers practicing in this field of law and in generally getting legal advice – whether the matters culminate in litigation or do not.
The Trans Law Cell is an initiative by the Centre for Law and Policy Research (“CLPR”) that provides free legal aid and advice to the transgender community, and empowers members of the trans-community to better understand, and fight for, their rights. It is a free walk-in legal clinic which takes place every week on Tuesdays, between 5-6 PM. The clinic is run in collaboration with the Transgender Rights NGO Swatantra and a lawyer from CLPR and a member from Swatantra are present in each session. Swatantra has also assisted with communications on the ground and helped to create an awareness of the Cell within the community. The maiden session of the Trans Law Cell was on 18th July, 2017.
On the 26th July Shilok Gupta from Radio Active interviewed Jayna Kothari about the Trans Law Cell, transgender rights in India and CLPR. This interview was broadcast the next week on Radio Active 90.4 MHz and published on Sound Cloud.
On August 1st CLPR co-hosted a workshop on the NALSA judgement, with Swatantra, which garnered a sizeable audience from the transgender community. The NALSA judgment refers to the decision of the Supreme Court of India in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India [(2014) 5 SCC 438] which recognized the rights of the transgender community and directed the Central and State Government to draft and implement policies to uplift the community. At the workshop Aashima Panikar, from CLPR, presented the salient features of the judgment, which was recorded and translated into Kananda, by Shilok Gupta. After the presentation Jayna Kothari conducted a Q&A session and addressed the legal issues and queries raised by the community.
The Trans Law Cell has so far helped address a range of issues. One of the biggest challenges faced by transgender persons is changing their legal documentation, such as marks cards, degrees, identity documents etc., to reflect their new identity. As no standard or uniform mechanism exists at institutions and government offices, making this change becomes complicated for transgender persons. While the Supreme Court directed the Central and State Government to grant legal recognition to transgender persons as male, or female or transgender, the pending Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 restricts the rights of transgender persons to be recognised as male or female. The mechanism formulated in the Bill for receiving a certificate of gender involves applying to the District Magistrate which is then reviewed by a District Screening Committee who issues the certificate. The Bill makes it compulsory for a transgender person to go through this 2-step process twice – to first apply and receive a transgender certificate and then subsequently apply for another change of gender certificate. It is only after this is issued that they are able to change the first name on the birth certificate and all other official documents which record the identity of the person. Thus, the Bill which is intended to protect the rights of transgender persons creates more legal hurdles and hardships. The Trans Law Cell has also assisted persons with issuing gazette notifications to reflect their new identity and in helping prevent cases of harassment and humiliation that arise from having contradictory genders on documentation and in real life.
Another legal issue faced by the transgender community is at hospitals where they wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy. Many transgender persons find that people at hospitals, including doctors and nurses, have not been sensitized to their issues and treat them without respect, and often even humiliate them. The Trans Law Cell has tried to reduce this trauma by assisting persons with the notarized affidavits required by medical hospitals for sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy.
Besides matters of legal documentation, the Trans Law Cell is open to providing all and any kind of legal aid to transgender persons. The Trans Law advised a transgender woman who was entrenched in a property dispute and was being threatened by her extended family members. CLPR worked with her to figure out what she wanted from her family, gave her legal advice on how to go about the situation and also guided her on how to interact with the police to ensure she was not abused or harmed. The Cell has also provided legal advice to persons who wish to establish inclusive societies within corporate firms, to ensure that there is no discrimination based on gender and gender identity in corporate environments.
The Trans Law Cell does not require prior registration or appointments. For more information on the cell and any legal query, contact Aashima Panikar at firstname.lastname@example.org.