?Third sex? in passports

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By CHANDRIMA S. BHATTACHARYA in Mumbai
  • Published 9.03.05
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Mumbai, March 9: Gender-sensitivity has started creeping into passport forms, where a provision has been made for the ?third sex?.

This is the first time that eunuchs as a category have found place in an official document in the country, say activists. On www.passport. nic.in, the passport office website put up by the ministry of external affairs, a prospective applicant encounters the category of sex not seen before in any government document. On clicking on the ?Rules? link, one is invited to write ?M? or ?F? for his/her gender as ?applicable in the box space? in ?Column 3? of the form. Then comes the staccato command: For eunuch, please write ?E? in the box.

An ambivalence remains, though. The new category looks furtively slipped into the instructions as the option is not available in the application form. In Column 3 in the form, against which the instruction is issued, there is the choice of the only two traditional genders: ?M? and ?F?. But the inclusion of the ?E? category, even if only in the instructions, is being seen as a huge triumph by activists who work with transgender people.

Ashok Row Kavi, whose organisation Humsafar deals with the transgender population, including eunuchs, criticised the fact that the form per se didn?t allow the ?E? category, saying it was symptomatic of the way government institutions function, especially when dealing with sensitive issues. ?The right hand doesn?t know what the left hand is doing,? he said.

But he stressed that the ?E? on the passport form means a significant beginning to the 25 to 30 million transgender people in the country. ?This is the first time that any official document has recognised them as a sex,? he added. ?They are a huge minority and this means that they are being taken into account,? he said.

Kavi added that ?many of them are extremely uncomfortable when asked to put their gender down as male or female?. But he advised that instead of ?eunuch?, the new category should have been ?transgender? as eunuchs represent only one kind of transgender population that includes transsexuals and hermaphrodites.

The government decision, he said, was the result of the hard work of ?sensitising? officials and organisations for some time. ?Our organisation, along with Lawyers? Collective, another NGO, met officials from the National Human Rights Commission and representatives from the health ministry two years ago,? Kavi said. ?We stressed on the importance of having a provision outside the male and female categories, as it is important for their recognition,? he added.

The NGO, however, said it did not know how the decision came about in the ministry. ?We were not intimated about anything by any official. It?s the transgender people we work with who came across the provision on the website,? said Vivek Diwan of the Lawyers? Collective.

He, however, welcomed the move, but mentioned he would have been happier if the word was not ?Eunuch?. Diwan said: ?Eunuch as a category is not particularly satisfying.?