MANASH PRATIM DUTTA
GUWAHATI, April 25 - Lack of sensitisation was the main cause behind the very low turnout among the transgender community of Assam in all the three phases of Lok Sabha polls, activist Swati Bidhan Barua told The Assam Tribune here today.
“In Assam, there is a need to carry out sensitisation among the transgender community about their right to exercise their franchise in the democratic process. Unless that is done, the turnout will remain low even in future,” Barua said.
According to Election Commission data, in the Lok Sabha election held in the State in three phases on April 11, 18 and 23, only 4.89 per cent voter turnout was recorded among the transgender community, although the overall turnout recorded an all-time high of 81.52 per cent in the State’s poll history.
Activist Barua stated that in this election a good number of transgender voters came out to exercise their franchise in Guwahati, followed by Tinsukia and Lumding. According to official figures, altogether 491 transgender people were registered in the electoral rolls in different districts of the State and among them only 24 cast their votes.
“Many transgender people, including myself, are still enrolled as ‘male’ voters in the electoral rolls because our documents submitted to change the gender category are yet to be scrutinised by the authorities concerned. The booth level officer of my area informed me that in the next verification of the electoral roll he would mention me as a ‘transgender’ elector,” Barua said.
According to Barua, Assam has more than 11,000 transgender electors and the number is highest in Guwahati. But most of them are enrolled as ‘male’ in the electoral roll. A delegation of the transgender community of the State would meet higher officials of the State Election Department soon with a request to rectify the issue, the activist added.
Explaining further the low turnout of transgender voters, Barua said, “Social stigma is still playing a vital role in keeping us behind in many aspects. So, there is a need to build a gender-sensible community in the State.”
It is noteworthy that in a study carried out by the State social welfare department, it was found that transgender people of Assam have been facing lots of hardship in enjoying their right to expression.
According to the findings of the study mentioned in the draft State Policy on Transgender, people of this community are unable to register their gender identity the way they choose in the application form for an ID card or other services. Most of them do not reveal their gender identity at work due to fear of discrimination and some of them even hide their gender identity from their families and friends.
Moreover, some transgenders feel a sense of shame about the dissonance between their body and gender identity and fear that they won’t be accepted by their families and society if their gender identity is revealed. Some of them feel a need to change their physical appearances.
Swati Bidhan Barua further told this newspaper that no political party in Assam is concerned about their issues. “We have already approached the leadership of every political party in the State but got no positive response from any of them. There is no one either in the Parliament or in the Legislative Assembly to represent our issues,” Barua said.
The activist asserted that the elected representatives of the State should lay emphasis on implementing the State Policy on Transgender, which is the only way to develop the socio-economic condition of the community.