Assembly polls

Third gender yet to get proper representation in voters' list

Transgender-voters The EC official said the community is opening up gradually as social acceptance increases | PTI

Used to enlist themselves either as male or female in official documents, the third gender voters are yet to come out in the open to declare their gender in voters' lists.

Out of 6.5 crore registered voters in West Bengal, a nominal 758 are from the third gender.

Election Commission officials said they have been trying their best to ensure that all voters from the category enlist themselves in a separate column.

"We are encouraging it. They can enlist as third gender both as a candidate as well as voters in the third gender category. But we have noticed that they don't want to mention third gender despite us asking them to do so," Amitjyoti Bhattacharya, Deputy Chief Electoral officer, told PTI.

Ranjita Sinha who leads Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal (ATHB) says social issues prevent them from coming out in the open.

"Most members of the transgender and hijra community are forced to register themselves as male or female voters when faced with problems in getting recognition as the third sex. There are many who were registered as male or female many years ago. Now how will they change their gender in the voter id card," the transgender activist asks.

The EC official said the community is opening up gradually as social acceptance increases.

"We have sensitised our district officials and all presiding officers to be sensitive to the needs of the third gender during polling and in the preparation of voters list. I can assure you that there is no discrimination from our side," Bhattacharya said.

Shabina Khatoon, a transgender living in a Kolkata slum, says she is worried of taunts and harassment from other voters while standing in the queue for voting.

"People pass dirty comments and laugh at us. It is difficult to stand in a queue alone to go for vote. We'll get our rights only when the people stop discriminating against us," she says.

Transgender activists claimed there could be as much as five lakh voters from the category in the state.

Both fielded by Ram Vilas Paswans Lok Janshakti Party, two transgender candidates are contesting high-profile seats in Kolkata Bhawanipore and Jadavpur.

Bobby Halder will contest against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from Bhawanipore while Shankari Mandal will put up a fight at Jadavpur.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls it was for the first time that transgenders and eunuchs were regarded as the third gender after Election Commission recognised them as "others".

Many like Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India's first transgender college principal, however refuse to register as "others".

"I was a man who changed gender and became a woman in 2003. So I'm a transwoman and not a transgender. I've the right to self determination and so I am a woman," she says.

Bandyopadhyay has registered herself as a woman in the voters list. "Why should I go for the 'others' category," she asked.

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