By Tanushree Gangopadhyay*
Gujarat’s first transgender candidate in the electoral fray, Jaysawal Naresh Babulal, will contest from the labour area of Ahmedabad East, but couldn’t claim her gender identity. Ironically, this vibrant constituency has fielded the largest number of crorepatis, numbering seven.
BJP’s Somabhai Patel is the richest with assets amounting to Rs 7.46 crore. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog, said in its report that six out of the 26 candidates in the fray here have declared assets worth over Rs 1 crore. Congress candidate Geeta Patel has declared assets worth Rs 4 crore.
Crorepatis don’t bother Jaysawal, who is proud to have her chelas campaigning door to door with people’s issues.
Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat, has three electoral constituencies in a state which has 26 Lok Sabha constituencies. Gandhinagar, the state’s capital, follows next, where five of the 17 candidates are worth more than Rs 1 crore. There are 75 crorepatis in the fray in Gujarat, around 20 per cent of the 370 candidates analysed by ADR. Congress’ AJ Patel from Mehsana is the richest candidate.
However, the first transgender candidate contesting Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat in 2019, Jaysawal, was compelled to register as a male, primarily due to lack of documents to prove her gender.
“No political party would accept my candidature, hence I confidently walked to the district collector, the Election Commission’s Returning Officer, to file as an independent candidate,” prides Jaysawal. “Unfortunately I could not submit my name as a transgender, but as a male”, rues Raju Mataji, as she is popularly called. Importantly “bangle” is her symbol.
However, Shobha, an active member of Lakshya, a transgender group in Vadodara, is miffed with Jaysawal. “It is grossly wrong to contest as a male. This is a let-down to our community. Hers is a historic step as no one from our community has so far has contested in Gujarat. I could have helped her change her documents”, claims the angst activist.
“The officials are very difficult to circumvent”, Jaysawal exhorts. “All our documents have male names. Ration card, the most important identification document, would obviously have my official name which was registered as a child. Changing gender in documents is almost impossible”, she charged.
This, despite the fact that Jaysawal has contested elections twice earlier – Gujarat Legislative Assembly in 2017 and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in 2015; and the gender did not seem to have bothered her. Jaysawal at 28 has been far too preoccupied with routine work which has kept her away from such important issues as officially claiming her gender.
Gujarat has approximately 1,100 registered transgender voters, with Ahmedabad topping the list at 139. “Ours is a discriminated community, where most of our gentry are ostracized and abandoned by their families. Our State has not helped us as they do elsewhere. Our tribe is compelled to join groups to eke out their living”, she fumes.
Even though the transgenders have been accepted as ‘’other’’ gender and given voting rights after the legislation passed in 2014, majority have been ostracized due to societal pressure. “The Army refused to recruit me, hence I have had to take up religious activities. I am a pujari at Khodiyar Ma’s temple.”
For Jaysawal, “Contesting Lok Sabha elections is primarily to serve my community. I have the advantage of being a matriculate who lives with her family. This is rare amongst our community. Most of them are illiterate, hence humiliated by society. We are terrorised from using public washrooms and other civic facilities. I shall demand toilets for ‘other’ gender.”
“I shall demand separate hospitals for our community. Male and female wards don’t accommodate us anywhere. The Kinnar community (as transgenders are called here) has many special health needs, which we are deprived of.”
Housing is an important problem faced by the Kinnar community. “Many abandoned by families, or our community , end up battling with each other, sometimes killing each other, also themselves”, Jaysawal says. Several Kinnars in Vadodara have got housing under the Prime Minister Awas Yojna and Ayushman Bharat after a great struggle.
Unless the system doesn’t cater to the Kinnars, Jayaswal says, they would never be able to catch up with the economic system. “PAN Cards with the classification of our gender are denied to us. It is very essential for us to open bank accounts, adds Jaysawal. We merely have voting cards declaring ourselves as hijras!”
Jaysawal at 28 is a priest of the Khodiar Ma temple near her house, and is also involved in religious activities where she earns her living and helps her parents financially.
“My father is a retired auto rickshaw driver. Unlike most hijras who are discriminated at home and lead a very humiliating life, I am better off.” She is revered and called Raju Mataji, but insists, “But the fight for my election is very difficult. With no money, no corruption, it will be tough, but we shall certainly continue raising our demands at the hustings!”
*Senior Ahmedabad-based journalist