India’s eunuchs and transsexuals hailed their victory on Friday in a long-standing campaign to be listed as “others,” distinct from males and females, on electoral rolls and voter identity cards.
The formal recognition, confirmed by the Election Commission, answers a longstanding demand by the eunuch and transgender community, known as hijra, who are believed to number up to 6 million.
“The inclusion of eunuchs and transgenders as ‘others’ gives us a separate identity which is what we have always wanted,” said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a prominent eunuch activist and founder of campaign group Astitva.
“This is a sign of a true democracy,” Narayan said.
Ashok Row Kavi, who works with sexual minority groups at the UNAIDS office in New Delhi, also lauded the Election Commission.
“It is a major step forward for the community who have been on the fringes of society, ostracized and excluded,” Kavi said. “I think it is to be welcomed.”
In the past, many eunuchs — the term used for cross-dressers, as well as pre and post-operative transsexuals — have abstained in elections because they have been unwilling to identify their gender on voter forms.
They could write “E” for eunuch on passports and on certain government forms, but had failed in their campaign for acceptance at the ballot box in culturally conservative India.
“In the electoral rolls prepared by the Election Commission of India, the eunuchs were registered either as male or as female,” a spokesman for the commission said, quoting a statement from the panel.
“The commission has ... decided to allow eunuchs/transsexuals to indicate their sex as other’ where they do not want to be described as male or female,” the spokesman said, asking not to be named.