Classifying members of the third gender as a separate caste in the highly-publicised ongoing exercise of the headcount of social groups in Bihar by the state government has sparked off a fresh row.
During the month-long second phase of caste-based headcount from April 15 to May 15, castes in Bihar will now be identified on the basis of codes, in the form of numbers. And each caste has been assigned a numerical code for use.
For instance, the sub-categories of Maithil, Kanyakubj and other Brahmins have been merged and clubbed under a single social entity called Brahmin, which will have a caste code no 126. No separate enumeration of its sub-categories will be done.
Similarly, the caste code of Rajputs is 169, Bhumihar is 142, Kayastha is 21 and for members of third gender, it is 22. Total 215 codes have been allotted to different castes and third gender is also been considered as a caste, with the allotment of a separate caste code.
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Gender identity not considered for caste
Terming the state government’s move of considering third gender a separate caste in the ongoing exercise as a criminal act, Reshma Prasad, founder secretary of Dostanasafar, a Bihar-based NGO, on Friday told PTI, “How can gender identity of a human being, become his/her caste? Can male or female be considered as caste, similarly, how can transgender be considered as caste? People belonging to transgender community can be of any caste”.
The move is against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules that talk about the prevention of non-discrimination of transgender persons, said Reshma Prasad.
“The social welfare department of the state government must intervene in the matter so that gender identity of a person should not be considered as caste,” said Prasad adding that he will definitely write to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in this regard and seek his immediate intervention into the matter.
“It’s a sheer injustice with people belonging to transgender community,” he pointed out.
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A social injustice
As per the 2011 Census, the total population of transgender persons in Bihar is 40,827.
Echoing a similar view, Grace Banu, a known transperson right’s activist and a software engineer from Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu), told PTI over phone, “The move of the Bihar government is simply a social injustice with people belonging to transgender community. How transgender, which is a gender identity, can be considered as caste? There are so many castes in the transgender community. If the state government (Bihar government) does not know how to count the transgender people, we are here to help them.”
“In the path-breaking judgment in National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) vs Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court made an authoritative pronouncement that transgenders be treated as third gender for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of the Constitution, as well as under the laws made by Parliament and state legislatures. This social injustice of the Bihar government needs to be rectified immediately…gender of a person cannot be considered as caste at all,” said Banu.
Justifying the demand of people belonging to transgender community, Vidyarthi Vikas, assistant professor, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies (Patna), said, “It must be rectified immediately, gender identity of a person cannot be considered as caste. There should be a separate column for transgender in gender categories. Freedom should be given to them (trans people), if they want to disclose their caste identities. In that condition, their caste should be mentioned in caste categories”.
Reacting to this, Bihar’s social welfare minister, Madan Sahni, told PTI, “If they (transpeople) have any issues with the ongoing exercise of caste-based headcount, including codes allotted to different castes, they must approach the department concerned and discuss with senior officials. The Grand alliance government in Bihar has already taken several welfare measures for improving the socio-economic condition of the people belonging to transgender community”.
Sahni added that the CM has always maintained that caste-based headcount would benefit all sections of the society.
The enumeration exercise, which started from January 7, will be completed by May, 2023. The state government will spend ₹500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise. The General Administration department is the nodal authority for the survey.