In India, the transgender community faces significant opposition and discrimination. However, a recent headline has brought hope to the community as a transgender couple, Ziya Paval and Zahhad, have broken norms and had a baby. The couple’s story is a small but significant step in the ongoing struggle for acceptance and rights for sexual minorities in India.
Despite the challenges they face, the transgender community has a rich legacy in Hinduism. In the epic Ramayana, transgender community members are said to be the “original Ram bhakts.”
According to the legend, when Ram was banished to the forest, he urged all men and women followers to go home. Being neither, the transgenders waited 14 years for his return. When Ram came back, he found them waiting for him on the banks of the Saryu in Ayodhya. Deeply moved by their devotion, he blessed the outcasts or so goes the transgenders’ tale. This story is significant as it shows that in Kalyug, the age of darkness, the transgender community will be the political masters.
Mahabharata, which narrates the great war between the Pandavas and Kauravas, is the story of Princess Amba, who became Shikhandi in another birth. Through rebirth, subsequent cross-dressing, and ‘sex change’, Shikhandi plays one of the decisive roles in the outcome of that great war and a turning point in the epic.
Despite religious backing, transgender individuals are often disowned by their families and face societal ridicule and stigma in India. It goes against the constitutional values of fraternity and dignity, which are essential moral principles that should be practised in private and public life.
Commenting on the principle of fraternity in the Constituent Assembly, J. B. Kirpalani, a prominent member of the Constituent Assembly said, “I come to the great doctrine of fraternity which is allied with democracy. It means that we are all sons of the same God, as the religious would say, but as the mystic would say, that there is one life pulsating through us all, or as the Bible says, we are one of another. There can be no fraternity without this. So, I want this House to remember that what we have enunciated are not merely legal, constitutional and formal principles but moral principles and moral principles have to be lived in life. They have to live whether it is private or public life.”
However, in the past two decades, there have been some positive changes for sexual minorities in India. In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised a transgender person’s right to self-identification as male, female, or the third gender. Furthermore, in August 2016, the government introduced the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha.
Social media has also played a role in building awareness and support for the transgender community. Ziya and Zahhad took advantage of social media to share their journey and build a positive narrative before society. They released pictures of their new family on Instagram, gaining attention and support from people around the world.
“The baby was born by around 9.30 am through a Caesarean Section at the Government Medical College Hospital,” Ziya Paval, one of the trans-partners, told reporters in Kozhikode. Both the baby and Zahhad, who delivered the child, are doing well, she added.
Despite the progress made, there is still a long way to go for sexual minorities in India. The societal boycott of transgender individuals goes against the moral principles enshrined in the Constitution. Society must continue to evolve and uphold the values of fraternity and dignity for all individuals, regardless of their gender identity.
Anup Dutta is a fellow of Vikas Samvad Constitution Fellowship 2022.