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General Studies 2 >> Social Justice

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1. Context 

Starbucks India recently stirred up controversy with an advertisement, which featured transgender model Sia as Arpita, who meets her parents at an outlet of the multinational coffee chain.
The ad shows the trans woman introducing herself as Arpita and not Arpit, her birth name.
Her parents, who were visibly hesitant initially, end up accepting her for who she is towards the end of the ad.
2. Depiction of trans people in Hindu Mythology
  • The historical evolution of the transgender community in India, shares that the concept of tritiyaprakriti (third nature) or napumsaka has been integral to Hindu mythology, Vedic and Puranic literature, epics and folktales.
  • The term napumsaka here indicates the absence of the ability to procreate, thus, distinguishing them from both masculine and feminine markers.
  • The female avatar of Vishnu Mohini who appears in the Mahabharata, counts as the first reference to trans people in Hindu mythology.
  • Mohini also appears in Vishnu Purana as well as the Lingapurana, where Shankara Narayanan's origins (Hariharan) are attributed to the merging of Shiva and Mohini (Vishnu).
Who was Mohini in Hindu mythology? What did she do? - Quora

2.1. Ramayana

The Trans persons (referred to as hijras in the Ramayana) were the ones who waited in the woods for 14 years after Lord Rama asked "men and women" to wipe their tears and go away", after being exiled because they did not fall within the gender-binary.

2.2. Mahabharata

  • The epic Mahabharata carries two main references to trans persons one, Aravan (translated from Tamil as the son of a snake) and two, Shikhandi.
  • Arvan was offered to be killed for Goddess Kali to ensure the victory of the Pandavas in the war, the condition was that he should spend the last night as a married man.
  • As women refused to be married to Arvan, Lord Krishna is believed to have taken the form of Mohini and married him.
  • Moreover, Princess Amba has sworn to take revenge on Bhishma after he abducted and rejected her in marriage.
  • The Transsexualism in Hindu Mythology, Amba, reborn as Shikhandini, changed her sex to become Shikhandi.
  • As Bhisma recognized Shikhandi as Shikhandini during the Kurukshetra war and refused to fight a "woman" he lowered his weapons as Shikhandi appeared in Arjuna's Chariot, assisting Arjuna Kill Bhishma with his arrows.
  • Shikhandi's Character, thus, became crucial in the victory of the Pandavas.

3. Trans people during the Mughal era

  • Michelraj, in his paper, mentions that hijras served as political advisors, administrators and guardians of the harems, during the Mughal era.
  • They also served in the royal courts during the Mughal rule in India, according to the paper and wielded influence in important matters of the state.
  • For instance, Itimad Khan was a eunuch officer in Akbar's court with the charge of administering the finances of the state.
  • According to historian Shadab Bano's article "Eunuchs in Mughal Households and Court, Khan became a sovereign confidant, with not just great influence, but also tremendous wealth.
  • The wealth and stature of trans people were noted, often with surprise, by European travellers to Mughal India".
  • They can get whatever they desire fine horses to ride, servants to attend them outside, and female slaves inside the house, clothes as fine and smart as those of their master himself", Dutch merchant Francisco Pelsaert noted during his visit to the Mughal court in the seventeenth century.

4. The British and the stigmatisation of trans persons

  • During British rule, hijras continued to receive protections and benefits from a few Indian states, including the provision of land, food, and money.
  • But the British themselves brought with them European attitudes towards transness.
  • The third gender enjoyed a certain degree of respect in the country, under traditional Hindu Culture.
  • However, besides other factors, British rule in India has greatly influenced the way people perceive the transgender community today.
  • The accompanied colonisation in the mid-19th century was a "strict sense of judgement to sexual mores" which criminalised "carnal intercourse against the order of nature".
  • According to Michelraj, criminalisation of their existence meant denying them civil rights.
  • Over time, the discrimination against transgender people by the state percolated into the society, influencing attitudes and eventually, turning the trans community into a shell of its former self.
  • Today, the precarity and vulnerability of trans people in India is in part a product of a social and ideological change that occurred during British rule.
5. Contemporary struggles and victories
  • In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court, in April 2014, legally recognized transgenders or eunuchs as "third gender" directing the Centre as well as the states to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes and extend reservations in admission to educational institutions and for public appointments.
  • The historic move came to be referred to as the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgment.
  • Within the judgment, the apex court directed governments to take steps to remove problems faced by them such as fear, shame, social pressure, depression and social stigma.
  • The court affirmed the constitutional rights of transgender persons under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • Further, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court widened the ambit of individual autonomy and decisional privacy by decriminalising homosexuality.
  • Reading down the provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised same-sex relationships, the top court held that the law violated the fundamental rights of citizens.
  • The court noted that the said Section was used as a weapon to harass the members of the LGBTQ community, resulting in discrimination.
  • Although the Bill to ensure horizontal reservation for transgender persons and people with intersex variations was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2014, the amendments made to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in December 2019, led to provisions, including that of horizontal reservation, to be scrapped.
  • Grace Banu, the founder of the Trans Rights Now Collective, filled out an application demanding horizontal reservations from the Tamil Nadu Government, but the SC refused to entertain the same.
  • It was in 2021 that Karnataka emerged as the first and only state to extend one per cent reservation for trans persons in any service or post in all categories of employment to be filled through the direct recruitment process in the state.
  • The Amendment to Rule 9 of the Karnataka Civil Services (General Recruitment) Rules, 1977, also directed recruiting authorities to provide a separate column to allow applicants to identify as "others" apart from male or female.
  • Horizontal reservation is an intersectional approach that is provided for within each vertical reservation category.
  • Within the queer community, "People coming from certain socio-economic locations often have easier access to healthcare, education and career opportunities and forms of capital which might not be the case for Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi (DBA) trans people".
For Prelims: Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hindu mythology, Vishnu Purana, Lingapurana, Mughal era, British rule, hijras, NALSA, homosexuality, Indian Penal Code, LGBTQ community, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019,  Horizontal reservation, vertical reservation, Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi
For Mains: 
1. Who are Transgenders? Discuss the Brief History of India's Transgender community. (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. Who wrote the book Ramayana? (Soldier GD 2021) 
A. Surdas        B. Kalidas          C. VedaVyasa       D. Valmiki
Answer: D
2. Sanskrit Ramayana is written by (AFCAT 2021)
A.Valmiki          B. Kabir           C. Tulsidas            D. Vyasa
3. With reference to Indian history, consider the following texts: (UPSC 2022)
1. Nettipakarana
2. Parishishtaparvan
3. Avadanashataka
4. Trishashtilakshana Mahapurana
Which of the above are Jaina texts?
A. 1, 2 and 3         B. 2 and 4 only        C. 1, 3 and 4           D. 2, 3 and 4
Answer: B
4. According to the Puranas, Lord Vishnu took the shape of ______ in order to rescue the earth, which had sunk into water. (SSC CGL 2021) 
1. a boar           2. a lion              3.  a tiger              4. an elephant
Answer: 1
5. Which is the oldest Purana? (UPSSSC Forest Guard 2015) 
A. Matsya Purana       B. Vishnu Purana      C. Narada Purana   D. Vamana Purana
Answer: A
6. With reference to the National Legal Services Authority, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2013)
1. Its objective is to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society on the basis of equal opportunity.
2. It issues guidelines for the State Legal Services Authorities to implement the legal programmes and schemes throughout the country.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?  
A. 1 only             B. 2 only         C. Both 1 and 2          D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C
7. In India, Legal Services Authorities provide free legal services to which of the following type of citizens?  (UPSC 2020)
1. Person with an annual income of less than Rs.1,00,000
2. Transgender with an annual income of less than Rs. 2,00,000
3. Member of Other Backward Classes (OBC) with an annual income of less than Rs. 3,00,000 4. All Senior Citizens
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
A. 1 and 2 only     B.  3 and 4 only             C. 2 and 3 only     D. 1 and 4 only
Answer: A
8. Navtej Singh Johar and others Vs Union of India, in this case Supreme Court give importance judgement related with: (MPSC 2019)
A. Shabarimala Temple Entry                   B. Linking up of Adhar to PAN Card
C. Homosexuality                                     D. SC/ST reservation in promotion
Answer: C
9. Which one of the following is a very significant aspect of the Champaran Satyagraha?
(UPSC 2018)
A. Active all India participation of lawyers, students and women in the National Movement
B. Active involvement of Dalit and Tribal communities of India in the National Movement C. Joining of peasant unrest to India's national Movement
D. Drastic decrease in the cultivation of plantation crops and commercial crops
Answer: C
10. The term "Bahujan" was first used by (Telangana PSC 2016) 
A. Mayavathi
B. Kansiram
C. Buddha
D. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
Answer: C
Source: The Indian Express

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