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The long fight for horizontal reservation for transgender people

Without horizontal reservation, there can be no talk about equality, say activists leading the protests

Trans activists protesting at Azad Maidaan, Mumbai, for horizontal reservation on April 13th. (@RieRauting/Twitter)
Trans activists protesting at Azad Maidaan, Mumbai, for horizontal reservation on April 13th. (@RieRauting/Twitter)

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In cities such as Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi, transgender people and rights activists have been holding peaceful protests for horizontal reservation. Nine years of the Landmark National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. Union of India judgment in 2014, transgender people are still fighting for their basic rights, highlighting the lack of progress made in the last decade. 

In Chennai,  about 15 protestors including Grace Banu, trans activist and founder of Trans Rights Collective were detained and allegedly manhandled by the police yesterday. “We were peacefully protesting at the M Karunanidhi memorial on the Marina but the police forcefully detained us,” said Banu.

Talking about the protests,, Banu said that in police recruitment lists that were released recently,  transgender people were excluded even though they have received good marks in competitive exams such as the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC), and the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB). "This is because we don’t have a separate reservation,” Banu tells Team Lounge.

 The fight for horizontal reservation has been a long one and lack of it has denied transgender people many opportunities. Currently, transgender persons and allies led by Banu are holding protests  for implementation of horizontal reservations in education and employment instead of including them in Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Horizontal reservations cuts across al caste categories and would provide for separate reservations within each vertical SC/ST/OBC/General category.  This means that 1% of ST, SC, OBC, and general merit seats each would be reserved for transgender persons, according to a blog post by Centre for Law and Policy Research.

Also read: Creating safe places: Kerala announces first hostel for transgender people

Since the NALSA judgement wherein the Supreme Court recognised their constitutional rights of equality, liberty, and dignity, the fight for horizontal reservation has been a priority for transgender persons. In the judgement, the Court directed state governments to take steps to treat transgender people as “socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservations in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments”. 

In December 2014, a private member’s bill presented by Rajya Sabha MP from the DMK, Tiruchi Siva, proposed horizontal reservation which would mean that persons would get benefits as a separate class within the reservation categories similar to how it exists for women or people with disabilities, according to The Wire. The bill proposing this was passed unanimously in Rajya Sabha. This judgement was followed by the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 which excluded reservation, sparking widespread protests led by transgender communities.

In 2021, the Centre moved a Cabinet note to include transgender persons in the list of OBCs. This move would invisiblise caste differences and ignore the diversities that exist within the trans community, as pointed out by trans activists such as Banu. The clubbing of with OBCs is also a refusal to acknowledge that they are also Dalit and Adivasi trans and intersex persons who face a historical disadvantage due to discrimination and oppression because of their caste and gender identity. 

The inclusion of transgender persons in the OBC category refers to vertical reservations which remain inaccessible to large sections of the trans community. For instance, those who belong to Scheduled Caste and Tribe (SC/ST) categories won’t be able to access their right to reservation under SC/ST and transgender person, even when they belong to both. Those who are already in the OBC category, will not be able to access affirmative action under the transgender quota. Furthermore, trans persons will have to compete with other OBCs for the reservation, reducing their chances of getting a seat or a post. 

On March 27, 2023, Banu filed an application in Supreme Court seeking clarification on reservations for transgender people. However, the bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud refused to hear, as reported by Live Law. The applicant asked for the Court to clarify that the reservation under 2014 NALSA is horizontal, and not vertical reservation. “My petition was dismissed and we were told that we can continue our advocacy with the state governments, which is what we are doing right now,” Banu says. 

Talking about horizontal reservation, Banu says without horizontal reservation there is no talk about equality. “Implementation of horizontal reservation ensures everyone has a right to participate in the public space. Otherwise, only certain communities will have access to reservation that is not social justice.”

In 2021, Karnataka became the first state, and the only state, to provide 1% horizontal reservation to the transgender community. This ensures that at least 1% of seats will be taken by transgender persons. “We will continue the fight, educate more people about horizontal reservation, and ensure we have access to our rights,” says Banu. 

Also read: A publishing house for transgender writers in India makes its debut

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