INDIA, April 15, 2014 (BBC): India's Supreme Court has recognized transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling. "It is the right of every human being to choose their gender," it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female. It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.
According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people. Campaigners say they live on the fringes of society, often in poverty, ostracized because of their gender identity. Most make a living by singing and dancing or by begging and prostitution.
Members of the third gender have played a prominent role in Indian culture and were once treated with great respect. They find mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures and were written about in the greatest epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In medieval India too, they played a prominent role in the royal courts of the Mughal emperors and some Hindu rulers. Many of them rose to powerful positions.
Their fall from grace started in the 18th Century during the British colonial rule when the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 categorized the entire transgender community as "criminals" who were "addicted" to committing serious crimes. After Independence, the law was repealed in 1949, but mistrust of the transgender community has continued. It is hoped that the landmark court ruling will help bring them into the mainstream and improve their lot.