India has customarily been viewed as a place of traditional, conservative values; the country’s citizens have only ever been allowed to classify themselves as males or females in gender, even if they know they are something else. The Indian Supreme Court took a dramatic step in a new direction when it recently ruled that a third gender classification, called “Hijras,” is allowed. Hijras is a word that has been given to transgender people in South East Asia. As a result of this ruling, gay pride in India is at an all-time high.
India is the world’s biggest democracy, and this monumental legislation now affords all citizens, no matter their gender classification, equal rights. Even though there are estimated to be approximately two million Hijras in the country, they have long been a marginalized part of Indian society. Due to employment inequity, many have only been able to work as prostitutes or beggars. Now they will have the same access to job opportunities, government programs, and education as everyone else; no Indian state can discriminate against them due to gender, caste, or religion. Approximately 30,000 individuals have demonstrated their gay pride in India by classifying themselves as something or than male or female on Indian voter registration forms.
India is the third country in the region to acknowledge a third gender; Bangladesh and Nepal have done so as well. While many LGBT activists are encouraged by the ruling, they feel it sends mixed messages; last year the same Indian court ruled that gay sex is illegal. The law banning gay sex in India is from colonial times and dates back to 1861. Even though transgender people are now legally recognized, they can still be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for having gay sex.
With this historic ruling, India is starting to embrace cultural change. Hopefully gay pride in India will have good reason to continue to grow.