Beyond the gender binary: Transgender people and the workplace
In the urbanscapes marked by queer pride marches and the veritable fad of patronizing the alternative sexuality groups, there is often a marked apathy with respect to the genderqueer.
Those very companies in India that celebrate their diversity policies often choose to skirt over the question of the ‘T’ in LGBT and more so if the same relates to the indigenous identities like the Hijras.
From the much-reported case of Rajatarangini, who was fired from her job as a manager in a 3-Star hotel after she came out as a transgender person and later started working for Kochi Metro to the case of trans-activist, Olga Aron who faced much discrimination after she revealed her transgender side at work, there are enough documented cases of how the Indian workplaces are not ready for moving beyond the male-female binary when it comes to gender.
The Transgender Identity: The source of discrimination against the transgender persons as mentioned lies in apathy often related to failure to appreciate the transgender identity. This can be related to the diversity of the transgender group. This includes transsexuals who undergo sex reassignment surgery since their biological sex does not conform to their gender expression, those who prefer to dress or behave like the opposite gender as also those who refuse to choose a gender.
In addition, there are enough indigenous genderqueer social groups for whom the existing West-inspired diversity policies may prove inadequate. The few important ones are Hijras /Aravanis (those mostly identifying neither as males or females), kotis (men who display some degree of femininity), Jogappas , Sakhis and Shiva-Shakthis (those who live like females after being dedicated to Goddess Yelamma, Lord Krishan and Shiva respectively).
All the above groups have a stigma attached to them. Often associated with begging and sexual exploitation, they have never been considered a part of the mainstream. With the predominant groups being that of the Hijras, there is often a tendency to associate the very idea of transgenderism to this identity. This first of all implies ridicule due to the notion of transgender persons being less than men in this heteronormative male-dominated world. Further, it links them to the stigma associated with the Hijras for centuries. This stigma tends to rub on even the transmen and transwomen who have undergone sex reassignment surgery as traditional transgender groups are the only reference point for most people.
Discrimination against the transgender persons at the workplace is in many forms. It ranges from denial of job opportunities to systematic discrimination in job assignment, workload allocation and denial of career opportunities to deliberate efforts to oust a transgender person from the job. Additionally, there are often no policies and practices based on the special needs of the transgender groups. Many organizations do not have clarity on even restrooms rules if they have transgender employees. Equally importantly, the lack of sensitivity among employees often makes day to day work difficult for the transgender person.
The Way Forward:
Despite the difficult situation, there is some hope. In certain creative industries, there is increased acceptance of transgender persons though it may still not extend to indigenous groups like the Hijras. In addition, there have been positive developments on the legal front with the Supreme Court and the Parliament working towards the recognition of the transgender person in law for the first time in the history of modern India.
The judgment of Supreme Court in 2014 in the National Legal Service Authority vs Union of India and Others was a landmark in the recognition of transgender rights. It recognized gender identity as associated with the Fundamental Rights of Equality, Freedom and Personal Liberty. In addition, it called for the State to frame policies to prevent discrimination against transgender persons and ensure their representation in education and employment.
Accordingly, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Parliament. The Bill though silent on the issue of reservations of jobs of the transgender persons in its current form, covers all the other aspects of the Supreme Court judgment. It calls for the employers to ensure non-discrimination and in case there are 100 or more employees, appoint a Complaints Officer to deal with violations with respect to the provisions of the Bill.
With state initiated steps to recognize the rights of the transgender person and remove the discrimination, it is imperative that the workplaces in India take this matter with utmost seriousness. The employer not just needs to adapt the policies suited to the transgender persons but also needs to ensure fairness and diversity. The transgender friendly workplace is the way forward and the employer cannot ignore this reality.