India to allow ‘third-gender’ people to use any public toilet they prefer

The sanitation ministry states the efforts that help in recognising members of this community as ‘equal citizens’.

In an era where Trump-led US administration goes back on Obama’s guidelines that offered transgender individuals unrestricted access to any bathroom of their choice, India shines through as the Central government issues a circular to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) on Monday that allows for transgender individuals to use any community and public toilet of their choice.

Launched in 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is India’s largest ever cleanliness drive that works towards eradicating or reducing open defecation through construction of individual, community and public toilets. The campaign also wishes to establish a mechanism for monitoring latrine use.

This is a highly significant and celebratory move for the community who often experience daily discrimination and have a stigma attached to them, especially when it comes to use of public toilets and general sanitation. 

Inclusivity

The Ministry of Sanitation has issued guidelines under the banner of ‘Inclusivity’ that calls for ‘conscious efforts’ to ensure that ‘they should be allowed to use the facility of their choice (men or women) in community or public toilets’. The circular also calls for ‘recognising them as equal citizens and users of toilets’.

The circular also mentions that the third gender has played a significant role as ‘Swacchta (cleanliness) champions’ in the community and that gender issues around sanitation should be addressed to eradicate the stigma and embarrassment associated with this group.

Simultaneously, the Madras High Court has also ordered Tamil Nadu government to build more toilets for third gender citizens in areas where they live in large numbers. According to a PTI report, a petition filed by one Devarajan claimed at that 2011 Census shows that around 10 lakh transgender citizens live in the state. The bench comprising of acting Chief Justice Huluvadi G Rameshand Justice Teekaa Raman ordered the petitioner ‘to take survey and submit a report facilitating the department to take appropriate steps to build exclusive public toilets –cum-bathroom for third genders where more number of third genders is living’.

Challenge of implementation

According to a Ladies Finger report, even though the high court’s mandate was issued in response to a PIL in 2014 that recognized transgenders as ‘third gender’, which included an order to build separate toilets for the members of this community, this is yet to be implemented in reality. Till date, Mysore is the only city that has followed this order where only one such separate toilet has been built. With these new guidelines, efforts towards providing accessible, safe and clean toilets for transgender community in India have only doubled.

Another sphere where the government has ensured for equality for transgender people in accessing public services is buying property in a complex. According to the Times of India, a ‘non-discriminatory clause’ exists under the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 that ensures everyone, including transgender people, to be able to buy property in a complex without facing discrimination or stigmatisation.


Palak Rao is presently enrolled as an MPhil researcher in Human Rights at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, Norway where she is working on the topic of economic, social and cultural rights and space politics in both India and the Middle East. Earlier she finished her BA (Hons) in Media and Sociology from Goldsmiths, University of London and gained a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (Majored in Filmmaking and Analogue Photography) from UAL, UK. She has worked with various NGO’s and government organizations in India, United Kingdom, and Norway. She’s currently the Assistant Editor at Khurpi.com.

Twitter: @palakrao11

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