This article originally appeared on VICE IN.
In a far-reaching move, the Indian government is pushing to recruit transgender people - often the target of discrimination and harassment - as officers in the country’s paramilitary forces.
The Ministry of Home Affairs wants to include a “third gender” as an eligibility condition to an upcoming examination to recruit personnel for the paramilitary forces. The proposal calls for the selection of Assistant Commandants - part of the highest echelons of the country’s officers - to serve in five paramilitary forces.
The Border Security Force, the second-largest of the country’s seven paramilitary forces - collectively called the Central Armed Police Forces, has already replied in the affirmative to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ proposal.
However, four other forces - the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) - are yet to respond. In a July 1 letter, the Ministry of Home Affairs urged them to convey their opinion.
India’s Union Public Service Commission, which will conduct the annual recruitment exam that is usually held in December, is expected to formally announce exam dates in August. This year, the UPSC hopes to recruit 323 individuals to be trained as Assistant Commandants.
While the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu appointed India’s first transgender police offier in 2015, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh was the first to actively recruit members of the transgender community in its police force.
A 2018 study by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that 92 percent of the transgender community, which includes more than 4,90,000 people, faced discrimination and was denied economic opportunities.
This push for inclusion comes after India’s Parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 into law last December. The Bill, which on paper sought to provide protection against discrimation to the transgender community, was criticised for being the “murder of gender justice”.
Many trans rights activists criticised it as discriminatory because it requires anyone who identifies as a transgender person to obtain a certificate from the government. It also requires a transgender person who wants to either identify as a trans man or trans women to show proof of a sex reassignment surgery.
Those who oppose the bill argue that it makes no mention of civil rights like marriage, adoption, social security benefits, nor offers reservations for transgender people in public education and jobs, despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that directed the government to do so.
“I think it [the proposal to recruit transgender people into the paramilitary forces] is a big political gambit for inclusion, because the on-ground reality is that nothing has changed for the trans community,” Santa Khurai, a trans rights activist from the northeastern state of Manipur, told VICE News.
“How will they recognise a trans person in the recruitment process? Are they going to force us to have surgery to identify as trans, or do we have the choice to determine our own identity?” she said.
Khurai, who opposed the 2019 law for “othering” members of her community by determining gender based on physical features, also feels the move to recruit transgender people into the country’s paramilitary forces will further isolate the community instead of including them.
“Instead of doing this, why don’t they acknowledge the writ petitions we have filed months ago in the Supreme Court, address the discrepancies in this bill and create a reservation system in government jobs to create opportunities for the trans community.”
In the U.S, the Donald Trump administration banned the transgender community from applying as new recruits to the military in 2019. Despite criticism that pointed to the lack of medical evidence to support this ban, the US government only allowed those already serving in the forces, or those who were willing to serve as their biological sex, to continue their service.
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