Good and honest mayors are hard to come by and it is a pity to lose them on technical grounds. Unfortunately for Ms Kamla Jaan — the form of address is dictated by her chosen self-perception — she will have to lose her chair in Katni, according to the ruling of the Jabalpur high court. Ms Jaan, a eunuch, is registered as a male in the electoral rolls but has won in a constituency reserved for women. The ruling cannot be faulted: technically speaking, Ms Jaan is occupying the chair illegally. But the case opens up broader and weightier issues. The most obvious one relates to eunuchs themselves. It is not just a question of their rights, it is far more a question of the perception of eunuchs by society in general, and through that route, of the different roles for different genders assigned by prevailing social structures. The presence of eunuchs in the political life of Madhya Pradesh is in itself a remarkable phenomenon, but the political arrangements are not yet adjusted to their participation. The first eunuch member of parliament, Ms Shabnam Mausi, has suggested that there should be a law that would allow eunuchs to qualify as both male and female. This has the virtue of a positive approach: instead of being of neither gender, eunuchs can be both. But such a law, if made, would have to be placed in a context of many other changes. Logic dictates that the issue be pushed further. If eunuchs are participating members of a polity, there is no reason why they should need to “adopt” either of the official genders — or both.
The other related question raised by the case is implicit in the first one — the need to rethink the boundaries of “official” society, whether in the census figures or in electoral policy. One of the greatest benefits of such rethinking would be the reduction of certain forms of criminal activity, because that which is labelled aberrant or criminal by dominant groups in society is invariably driven underground. Underground survival cannot go by the law. It is a telling commentary on society’s folly that Ms Jaan has been the best mayor that Katni has seen. This case also exposes the myopia of the seat reservations system. For any one group whose rights are being officially protected, there will always be many more less privileged ones.