Neither nor

Legal recognition alone cannot combat the discrimination faced by transgender individuals.

On November 1, Germany became the first European country to introduce a third sex option in its birth certificates. For transgender individuals, forced for so long into identities that do not articulate their sexual or gender orientation, it could be a vital mark of recognition. In most countries across the world, they are largely consigned to legal anonymity and denied basic citizenship rights. In India, they have to identify as male or female in order to vote or marry, and to access many social services. But the state is slowly waking up to the presence of gender-variant identities, with the UIDAI and the Election Commission making space for a third sex option on their forms, the Centre introducing a well-meant though misnamed E (eunuch) category in passport applications. Transgender individuals were counted for the first time in Census 2011.

But legal recognition alone cannot change social attitudes that have calcified over decades or address the insecurities that have taken root in the transgender community. The Supreme Court recently regretted that they were excluded from schools and jobs, and treated as "untouchables". They face daily violence from various quarters, including law enforcement agencies. And in Delhi, only 551 have joined the electoral rolls ahead of the assembly polls, although there are an estimated 8,500 transgender individuals in the city.

People of the third sex must become part of the social and cultural life of the mainstream. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, transgender individuals have started breaking out of the ghettoised communities they were confined to, with a dedicated state welfare board. Apart from being given separate ration cards and better access to education and jobs, they are also increasingly visible in the state's popular culture, hosting talk shows and being feted in the media. Such inclusion, in people's imaginations as well as in the law, could go a long way in combating discrimination.

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