CLPR has launched a number transgender rights initiatives this year. In this podcast, Aashima Panikar and Ashwini Tallur discuss the graduate course “Transgender Identity and the Law in India” taught by CLPR at the National Law School of India University, and the Trans Law Cell, a free legal aid clinic initiative by CLPR.
The transcript is as follows:
Hello everyone. This Podcast is recorded on the 11th of October 2017. This is Ashwini Tallur from the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bangalore. Today we will be talking about the work we have been doing on Transgender Rights with particular focus on the graduate course “Transgender Identity and the Law in India” taught at the National Law School of India University and the free legal aid cell “Trans Law Cell”. With me is my colleague Aashima Panikar who has worked on both these efforts.
Ashwini: Hello Aashima. Could you please tell us about the rationale behind this course?
Aashima: Hi Ashwini. The idea of the course was that we need to address the current information gap that exists when it comes to transgender rights. There’s very little discourse that is focused solely on transgender rights and the law surrounding it. Most law students themselves are not aware of the transgender identity. It is crucial that law students are given an opportunity to explore such a subject. Transgender persons remain one of the most marginalized communities in India, and there is systemic oppression against them, legal hurdles etc, and unless we can discuss this with students, and aspiring lawyers, we will not be able to ensure that the work we do is strengthened and pushed forward. Lawyers are the ones who are able to influence legislation through litigation or policies. This is something that is also done by other NGOs that are involved with Transgender Rights. For example, in September, Jessica Lynn, a transrights activist from the United States of America, was talking extensively at Universities and Colleges, and she was at CLPR as well to talk to a diverse audience about her own journey, her gender transition and her fight for custody of her children. You know, you find that people are not aware of these stories, they’re not aware of these problems or issues.
Ashwini: That sounds like an effective way to disperse knowledge. I was at Jessica Lynn’s talk and I was really surprised to hear that a person could actually be taken off of their child’s birth certificate just cause of the fact that they have transitioned. What information was CLPR looking to convey to the students?
Aashima: So we designed the course keeping in mind the varying aspects of law and its impact or relation with the transgender identity. We structured the course by dividing it into 7 sessions, each discussing a different topic. The introductory session focused on the idea of gender and gender identity, so it explored transgender identity and its meanings, its perception in the west as well as the local Indian narratives. We then explored the constitutional status of the transgender identity by looking at the NALSA judgment by the Supreme Court of India, and varying rights of equality, freedom, the right to life, the right to privacy through the new decision in Justice Puttaswamy v. Union of India, etc. Our 3rd session looked at the interaction of the transgender community with criminal law, with criminalization of the transgender identity under provisions like Section 377 based on their conduct, and provisions and specific enactments like telangana eunuchs act which is based on their identity. We looked at transgender rights and equality, trying to understand how equality could be broadened in the workspace or at schools and in education, and we looked at the constitutional provisions of article 14 or 15, to explore how it could include the transgender identity. Session 5 focused on the right to sex reassignment surgery and the right to health, we looked at the duty of the state to provide such health care to all citizens and to transgender persons. In session 6, we looked at family rights, we looked at cases and laws to understand how we perceive family and how oppressive these laws are, and in a lot of cases, even the case law is with respect to one’s right to marry, or the right to adopt etc. Finally, our seventh session, it sort of aimed at giving direction to the course, and so we explored the future of transgender rights, the transrights movement, as well as the law and politics, and the way ahead.
Ashwini: Right, that sounds like a really interesting course. Were the students engaged?
Aashima: Yes, we saw very enthusiastic discussions in the class. The students were receptive, and interested. They said they found their own perceptions and understanding of gender drastically changing through the course of the sessions. Ms. Jayna Kothari, who took the course, encouraged the students to explore the future of transgender rights and the law and their final submissions look at that. The course outline and list of recommended reading materials is posted online and we welcome and encourage our listeners to visit our website clpr.org.in to learn more about the course.
Ashwini: Right, and now that the submissions are in and the course is officially over how else does CLPR intend to actively promote Transgender Rights?
Aashima: At CLPR, we have an initiative that we have started. We started it on in July, 18th July was our maiden session, called the Trans Law Cell. We sit every Tuesday between 5-6 PM, and it is an open cell where we invite persons from the community, to bring forward any legal doubts, queries, any problem which we can assist in. So it’s a completely free legal clinic essentially. It doesn’t matter if it results in litigation and a case being filed in the court or not. If there’s anything that we can assist in, that’s the idea of the cell. We are in collaboration with Swatantra, which is a Transgender rights organisation in Bangalore, and a member from Swantantra also attends every session so that people feel more welcome to come to these sessions, and are more engaged with us. You know the range of work we do, what we’ve seen so far is that we’ve helped people with their legal documentation. One of the major problems is that it’s not easy to change your gender or your name in your legal documents, for example your marksheets, or your Aadhar or PAN, so we help in those kind of tasks. We also help in things like giving an affidavit which is required in hospitals for surgeries, and other things, whether it’s a family dispute which is probably because of your identity as a transgender person. In fact, we put up a Quarterly Report on the Trans Law Cell, which is also available on our website. So maybe, all those who are interested could find out about it, and spread the word, because at the end of the day the idea is that more people who need or require such services can access it.
Ashwini: Thanks for your time Aashima, and thank you for listening. At CLPR, we research and litigate a wide range of issues that impact society. Please follow us on Facebook at Centre for Law and Policy Research and on Twitter @CLPRTrust.