First transgender woman to contest in Indian general elections


Bharathi KannammaIndia: An Indian transgender woman is campaigning for a seat in parliament, just days after India’s Supreme Court legally recognized transgender people as the “third sex” besides males and female.

Bharathi Kannamma, 53, is running as an independent candidate in the southern Indian city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu state.

Media have described Kannamma as the first transgender person accepted as a candidate in an Indian general election.

Her electioneering initiative comes after the Supreme Court ruled  April 15 that transgender people be recognized as the third sex.

Before that transgender people were never assigned to any federal government department nor part of the welfare, economic, cultural or political decision process that every Indian should be part of. They were even barred from receiving driver licenses, national tax system registration and ration cards.

Kannamma comes from Tamil Nadu, which even before the Supreme Court ruling had long since given the third sex an official status in identity cards and application forms for college education. But that remained within the state and was of no consequence at the national level.

The Supreme Court ruling changed that, allowing Kannamma to contest in India’s national elections for 543 seats in the lower house of parliament that began April 7 and will continue until May 12 with results expected on May 16.

The elections are the world’s largest with 814 million registered voters and this is the country’s first elections were they will be allowed to register as the “other” sex.

Kannamma has a master’s degree in sociology and works to sensitize society about  transgender people by talking to students in schools and colleges.

She runs her own Bharathi Kannamma Trust, a voluntary organization that helps poor transgender people.

Since Kannamma filed her nomination papers as a candidate, two transgender people are also fighting for seats in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Transgender men and women know as hijras in India have a recorded history of more than 4,000 years and were once a firmly accepted group in Indian culture. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, recognize them with both male and female characteristics.

That status changed in the British colonial period and they were since legally marginalized with limited access to healthcare, employment or education.

In modern day India they are reviled, harassed and marginalized, largely reduced to begging on the streets and during weddings and other festivals.

Conservative estimates place India’s third gender to be at least six million adults.

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