Trans Inclusion in Corporate India: Ideas, Questions and Challenges

In December 2018, the Mumbai-based Godrej India Culture Lab published a white paper titled ‘A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace’ authored by Nayanika Nambiar and Parmesh Shahani. What is remarkable about this document is that it offers policy researchers working on gender issues an opportunity to think outside the binary of man/woman, an exclusionary lens that is steeped in cisgender privilege. It sensitises readers to the challenges faced by trans people in Indian society but does not stop at enumerating what is dysfunctional about current systems; it is invested in documenting best practices through case studies and providing corporates with a rigorous blueprint for policies that revolve around trans inclusion.

This article aims to offer a critical reading of the manifesto in the light of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 passed by the Indian Parliament, which has been widely critiqued by trans activists themselves whom the state constructs as intended beneficiaries of the new legislation.1,2,3,4,5,6 Fortunately, Nambiar and Shahani, the authors of the manifesto present it not as a finished document but as a work in progress that is open to future iterations. Their objective is to find a path that can address the needs of trans people from a rights-based perspective while also securing the financial interests of businesses.

Recognising trans inclusion as a separate category of work that requires attention within the broader mandate of adopting LGBTQ+ friendly policies is a significant step advocated in the manifesto. The authors note that trans employees “face a distinctly different set of challenges in the workplace that are not a part of the lesbian, gay or bi experience”. These are crucial to account for because diversity and inclusion efforts in the corporate sector, and the queer rights movement in general, have excluded trans people when the leadership is concentrated in the hands of cisgender gay men.7, 8

In an email dated March 10, 2020, Nambiar and Shahani elaborated, “Through the course of writing the manifesto, several trans individuals brought up that housing was a difficult issue to navigate. The prejudices of housing societies and landlords makes the process of renting a flat quite uncomfortable. In addition to this, it is difficult to manage the expenses of hormone therapy as well as rent. This was a recurring issue with the trans employees that Kochi Metro was working with. Another hurdle that is sometimes out of the company’s hands is commute — trans persons often face discrimination on the way to work. If companies can provide shuttle services or chalk out a carpooling policy, this might help as well”. 

While the stated aim of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 is to prohibit discrimination against trans people in terms of access to education and employment opportunities as well as the ability to rent or buy property, it prescribes no penalty or remedy for breach of these provisions.9 Instead of respecting the principle of self-determination, it violates the dignity and bodily autonomy of trans people.10 It empowers the district magistrate and the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex to determine who is qualified to identify as trans, and who does not fit the bill, based on biological determinism and compulsory gender affirmation surgery.11, 12, 13, 14

When legal recognition is made a prerequisite to establish the personhood of a trans person, any revision to the manifesto will have to keep in mind that corporates are likely to build policy mandates around the letter of the law rather than human rights precedents. The burden of documentary proof hinders access to health care, bank loans and housing. In their email dated March 10, 2020, Nambiar and Shahani mentioned, “According to the National Human Rights Commission report, less than half of India’s trans population have access to education, and 62% of those that do, face abuse and discrimination. In this light, companies should try to evaluate trans candidates on the basis of skills and not qualifications, and perhaps even begin skilling programmes in-house as well”.

As a result of their estrangement from the families they were born into, trans employees may not possess identification documents such as their birth certificate, election photo identity card, PAN card or Aadhaar card. Going back is not a choice because they have had to extract themselves from contexts of violence and abuse, where there is a threat to their life. Their legal status has become even more precarious in recent times, as is evident from recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). They are anxious about being stripped of their citizenship because they are not in a position to furnish documents showing family history of residing in India.15, 16, 17, 18

While Nambiar and Shahani did not have anything to say about how the corporate sector can protect trans employees who are unable to produce the citizenship documents mandated by the NRC and the NPR, they did comment on how companies can back trans persons who are worried about their legal status because of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. Nambiar and Shahani stated, over email, “In the case of name and gender change on identification documents — companies should maintain ties with local NGOs working to help trans persons with this process. The process is outlined here on TWEET (Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust) Foundation’s website: https://tweetindia.org/name-change/. NGOs often have better leverage than companies in matters of documentation”.

They added, “The company’s legal team could also assist and advise trans persons undergoing this process. In terms of which documents are required, it differs from state to state. Sandeep Nair of Community told us that that the individual could also be employed based on a notarised affidavit declaring their name and gender and then the company can further assist them in applying for the Central Gazette notification”. Navigating these bureaucratic hurdles is a complex and cumbersome process, and one of the strengths of the manifesto is that it attends to these practical considerations alongside advocating for a trans affirmative discourse.

A new and improved version of the manifesto would benefit from a more detailed articulation of the psychological implications of dysphoria and transitioning, the reasoning behind the use of preferred pronouns, and the trauma caused by misgendering and deadnaming for individuals whose identity documents reflect the gender assigned to them at birth and not their self-determined gender identity. This knowledge is essential to impress upon corporates the need to provide mental health resources and services for trans employees. A deeper engagement with what sexual harassment at the workplace and what intimate partner violence at home could look like for trans persons might also play a substantial role in informing trans inclusion policies.

Nambiar and Shahani are of the opinion that all policies should be made gender neutral and trans inclusive, including the policy on the prevention of sexual harassment. Over email, they said, “Over and above this, companies should know of queer affirmative counsellors, companies or NGOs that provide mental health services, as they would have the expertise required to understand what the employee is going through. It is vital that companies consult with LGBTQ+ community organisations while drafting their policies — there are many excellent organisations with expertise now at working with corporations”.

While this could be a fertile ground for collaboration, competing ideologies can also lead to friction. There is a growing body of critique around how companies are trying to cash in on the vulnerabilities of LGBTQ+ consumers through a well-packaged narrative of rainbow capitalism that cares only about the revenue they bring, and not their rights. It is seen as replacing the culture of rebellion against patriarchy, conversion therapy and corrective rape with a rhetoric of assimilation that upholds monogamy and the nuclear family as normative, respectable institutions that will guarantee a fairy-tale version of happiness akin to heteronormativity. It also erases the struggles of LGBTQ+ people who are marginalised by virtue of being working class, dalits, adivasis, Muslims, sex workers, racial minorities or refugees.19, 20, 21, 22 While the Godrej India Culture Lab has been conscious about programming events that look at these intersections of identity, it remains to be seen whether it can convince other corporates to do the same.

REFERENCES:-


  1. Knight, K. (2019) India’s Transgender Rights Law Isn’t Worth Celebrating. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/05/indias-transgender-rights-law-isnt-worth-celebrating (Accessed 17 March 2020)

2. Pathak, S. (2019) India Just Passed A Trans Rights Bill. Why Are Trans Activists Protesting It? NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/04/784398783/india-just-passed-a-trans-rights-bill-why-are-trans-activists-protesting-it (Accessed 17 March 2020)

3. Shukla, P. (2019) India’s Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019: A Critique. Eurasia Review. Retrieved from https://www.eurasiareview.com/30122019-indias-transgender-persons-protection-of-rights-act-2019-a-critique (Accessed 17 March 2020)

4. Bhatia, G. (2020) ‘The Constitutional Challenge to the Transgender Act’, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy (blog). Retrieved from https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/the-constitutional-challenge-to-the-transgender-act/ (Accessed 31 January 2020)

5. K. R., B. (2020) India’s Transgender Community Must Gear Up For A Long Fight. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/transgender-citizenship-amendment-act_in_5e340c60c5b69a19a4ad9e15 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

6. Sahai, V. (2020) The Sexual is Political: Consent and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Centre for Law and Policy Research. Retrieved from https://clpr.org.in/blog/the-sexual-is-political-consent-and-the-transgender-persons-protection-of-rights-act-2019 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

7. Modi, C. G. (2020) Queer Azadi Mumbai 2020: For whose pride? The Hindu. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/society/queer-azaadi-mumbai-2020-for-whose-pride/article30950346.ece (Accessed 17 March 2020)

8. Tellis, A. (2020) Saffron rainbow rises as queers police their own. The Asian Age. Retrieved from https://www.asianage.com/opinion/columnists/080220/saffron-rainbow-rises-as-queers-police-their-own.html (Accessed 17 March 2020)

9. Bhatia, G. (2020) ‘The Constitutional Challenge to the Transgender Act’, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy (blog). Retrieved from https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/the-constitutional-challenge-to-the-transgender-act/ (Accessed 31 January 2020)

10. Pathak, S. (2019) India Just Passed A Trans Rights Bill. Why Are Trans Activists Protesting It? NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/04/784398783/india-just-passed-a-trans-rights-bill-why-are-trans-activists-protesting-it (Accessed 17 March 2020)

11. Knight, K. (2019) India’s Transgender Rights Law Isn’t Worth Celebrating. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/05/indias-transgender-rights-law-isnt-worth-celebrating (Accessed 17 March 2020)

12. Pathak, S. (2019) India Just Passed A Trans Rights Bill. Why Are Trans Activists Protesting It? NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/04/784398783/india-just-passed-a-trans-rights-bill-why-are-trans-activists-protesting-it (Accessed 17 March 2020)

13. K. R., B. (2020) India’s Transgender Community Must Gear Up For A Long Fight. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/transgender-citizenship-amendment-act_in_5e340c60c5b69a19a4ad9e15 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

14. Sahai, V. (2020) The Sexual is Political: Consent and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Centre for Law and Policy Research. Retrieved from https://clpr.org.in/blog/the-sexual-is-political-consent-and-the-transgender-persons-protection-of-rights-act-2019 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

15. Sharma, D. (2019) Determination of Citizenship through Lineage in the Assam NRC is Inherently Exclusionary. The Economic and Political Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.epw.in/engage/article/determination-citizenship-through-lineage-assam-nrc-exclusionary  (Accessed 17 March 2020)

16. K. R., B. (2020) India’s Transgender Community Must Gear Up For A Long Fight. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/transgender-citizenship-amendment-act_in_5e340c60c5b69a19a4ad9e15 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

17. Sahai, V. (2020) The Sexual is Political: Consent and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Centre for Law and Policy Research. Retrieved from https://clpr.org.in/blog/the-sexual-is-political-consent-and-the-transgender-persons-protection-of-rights-act-2019 (Accessed 17 March 2020)

18. Sarfaraz, K. (2020) Transgender, queer groups march against CAA, NRC. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/transgender-queer-groups-march-against-caa-nrc/story-MU5PFAPVbhdLIUT4Q2y2lO.html (Accessed 17 March 2020)

19. Banu, G. (2018) ‘Where Are the Archives of Our Dalit Trans Foremothers and Forefathers?’, ThePrint (blog). Retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/dalit-history-month/dalit-trans-resilience-is-a-fight-against-caste-and-patriarchy-though-we-are-missing-from-written-archives/53509/. (Accessed 29 April 2018)

20. Harrison, D. (2019) How rainbow capitalism harms the origins of what pride is about. Bet. Retrieved from https://www.bet.com/style/living/2019/06/07/rainbow-capitalism-is-harmful.html  (Accessed 17 March 2020)

21. Tatchell, P. (2019) Pride has sold its soul to rainbow-branded capitalism The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/28/pride-rainbow-branded-capitalism-stonewall-lgbt (Accessed 17 March 2020)

22. Watta, A. (2019) Is rainbow capitalism truly queer liberation? Gaysi Family. Retrieved from http://gaysifamily.com/2019/06/26/is-rainbow-capitalism-truly-queer-liberation (Accessed 17 March 2020)

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