Bhubaneswar: Odisha has become the first Indian state to give transgenders social welfare benefits, including a pension, housing and food grains. These are benefits usually given to the most impoverished – and also usually during election season.
Niten Chandra, principal secretary of Odisha’s Department of Social Security, spoke about the move’s relevance to bring the transgender community at par with the benefits given to those living below the poverty line:
“Most transgender people are in a very bad condition because of social exclusion. For example, they very often do not get employment easily,”
There are no official figures, but activists say there are hundreds of thousands of transgender people in India, many of whom face ostracism and discrimination, as well as verbal, physical and sexual abuse. A lack of access to education and employment opportunities has meant many male-to-female transgender people – also known as “hijras” – end up forced into sex work or moving around in organised groups, begging or demanding money.
“The government had a consultation with transgender people in April, and they had raised their problems and issues. On that basis, we are now taking many decisions to help them – giving them the Below Poverty Line status is one of them.”
In a landmark judgment in April 2014, India’s Supreme Court recognised transgender as a legal third gender and called on the government to ensure their equal treatment. The court recognised the community as a marginalised group and directed authorities to implement policies to improve their socio-economic status.
Chandra said Odisha’s transgender population was unofficially estimated at 40,000, but added a survey would be conducted soon to get a more accurate figure. Members of the transgender community will be given Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards that will allow them to access benefits under various government welfare programmes. This includes schemes that provide free housing, 100 days of paid work annually, pensions and loans to start up their own businesses. They would also be entitled 5 kg of food grains every month under India’s National Food Security Act.
Transgender rights groups welcomed Odisha’s new policy and called for its effective implementation. “We are thankful to the government. This is a welcome step. At least now the government has started recognising our problems,” said Meera Parida, chairperson of All Odisha Third Gender Welfare Trust.