Winds of change in TN politics, major parties field transwomen in urban local body polls
Inspired by the bold and dynamic former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, N Jaya Devi, 32, enrolled as a basic member in the AIADMK in 2008. She had followed in the footprints of her parents who were party members. However, the political journey of this transwoman was not particularly a smooth one.
Jaya Devi had to work doubly hard to get recognition. But gradually as she started to resolve issues of the people in her area such as getting them school/college scholarships, pensions etc., the party started to recognise her. In 2012, she was appointed as the district joint secretary of the party’s youth wing and she became the joint secretary of the women’s wing in 2016.
Almost 14 years after she took the first step to become a politician, the party acknowledged her good work by giving her a ticket to contest in the urban local body elections from ward 112 in the Greater Chennai Corporation. She is one of the four transwomen who had filed their nomination papers to contest in the urban local body polls, and representing one of the major Dravidian party in the state.
While BJP has fielded G Rajamma alias Rathi, 40 – who has been with the party for more than 10 years – from Thiru Vi Ka Nagar in Chennai; the DMK has given a ticket to R Ganga, 49, a member of the party for almost a decade from Vellore district, while CPI(M) member R Sneha, 42, will stand from Kuthalam, Mayiladuthurai district. All four are contesting from the wards reserved for women.
This is the first time major political parties in the state have recognised the contribution of transgenders and given them an opportunity to contest in the election as their party candidates. Earlier, in 2019, DMK had fielded a transgender Riya in the rural local body election from Tiruchengode and she in turn made history by becoming the first transwoman to get elected as a panchayat union member. Until then, transwomen had been contesting as independent candidates without any support from political parties.
Sneha told The Federal that she could do a lot more for the people if she was voted to power. On facing discrimination from the public for being a transwoman, Rajamma from the BJP pointed out, “Since I have been living in the locality since my childhood and my family lived here for generations together, I have the full support of the public. They have accepted me for who I am long ago and I never felt discriminated by my neighbours or party cadres.”
Party leaders across the spectrum made it clear they had followed established party procedures to select the candidates and had not shown any concession just because they belonged to the transgender community. The seat was given to them only because they were considered as potential winners, said party leaders adding the party could not afford to lose even a single seat knowingly in the election.
A DMK MLA from Vellore, AP Nandakumar said, “When Ganga expressed her willingness to contest in the election, we had scrutinised her application and did a complete study to assess her victory percentage. We figured out she is quite popular in the locality and she has been working for the public for several years. The people too consider her as one among them without any hesitation. Also, she had attended the personal interview and she was given a chance only because she performed well there.”
Karu Nagarajan, a BJP functionary pointed out that just because a party member is a transwoman, they cannot ignore their contribution towards the party. “Rathi has been associated with the party for a long time and has a good reputation. After all, transwomen had won the elections at several places in the country. We wanted to give equal opportunities to everyone without any discrimination and it is important to have their representation. It might in turn encourage more people from the community to work in politics,” said Nagarajan.
A decade ago, transwomen were diffident, hesitant to contest elections since they had a major inferiority complex, pointed out AIADMK spokesperson Kuralar Gopinathan.
“But, now, the situation is completely different. When they show willingness, it is the responsibility of the parties to support and nurture them,” he added. Further, he said that this new move would instill confidence in many others to come forward to get involved in politics.
Welcoming the move, Grace Banu, founder-director of Trans Rights Now Collective said that involving transgenders in politics has been one of the long-pending demands of the community. And it is only now, parties have started to recognise them. “Even though it is just a baby step, it is a positive change in the society. Until recently, many political parties did not even consider including welfare measures for transpeople in their election manifestos,” she added.
“The parties now come forward to field people from transgender community for the posts of mayor, MLAs and MPs. It is only then the voices of our people can be heard louder,” she said. Also, she sought for reservation for transpeople in politics. As the winds of change continue to blow in corners of constituencies in a small way, it is a matter of time before this happens as well.
Jaya Devi however felt that parties should not limit themselves after giving them tickets. “They should also support us in campaigns to ensure that we win in the election”, she said emphatically.
The filing of nominations to contest in the elections to 649 urban local bodies in the state concluded on Friday. Until now, 14,701 candidates have filed nominations to contest for corporation ward member posts, 23,354 for the municipality ward member posts and 36,361 for town panchayat ward member posts.