Horizontal Reservations for Transgender Individuals: A Step Towards Dignity 

Reservations are an affirmative action provided to historically disadvantaged groups in India to provide them representation as well as opportunities for upliftment. Reservations are a must for transgender individuals since they continue to face discrimination in accessing employment opportunities. Indian states are recognising this need, and recently, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu governments to provide horizontal reservations to transgender folks. The move highlights that the fight for equality for the trans community is progressing, albeit slowly.  

What are horizontal reservations, and why are they needed? 

Transgender women (Hijras) of Panchsheel Park II, New Delhi, 1994, photographed by

R Barraez D´Lucca licensed under CC by 2.0 Attribution 2.0 Generic

Horizontal reservations refer to sub-quotas for transgender individuals within the existing reservations of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes. These reservations take account of the double marginalisation of transgender individuals based on caste as well as gender identity. Within the current system of reservations, transgender folks are forced to compete with cisgender folks for employment opportunities. According to a 2017 report by the National Human Rights Commission, the majority of transgender folks are engaged in the informal sector of India since 96% of them are denied jobs due to the transphobic nature of society. Due to this, trans people face financial instability as well as low income, causing them to live in poverty whilst engaging in begging, badhai, or sex work, where they face further exploitation. 

The tragedy is that even when trans individuals manage to upskill themselves and get enough qualifications, they still face abuse and discrimination. Dalit trans activist Grace Banu’s experience of working as a software engineer at a firm where she faced a hostile environment, leading her to quit, showcases the barriers that exist even when one is able to access employment. OBC trans woman Jane Kaushik has a similar story and often faced rejection from employers due to her trans identity. When she finally managed to secure a job as a teacher at a school in Uttar Pradesh, she was forced to hide her identity, and when students found out about her being trans, she was kicked out of the school without any support from the staff. Such instances reveal the need for systemic change which would allow trans individuals to access jobs without discrimination. 

How will reservations help uplift transgender individuals?

Transgender women (Hijras) of Panchsheel Park II, New Delhi, 1994, photographed by

R Barraez D´Lucca licensed under CC by 2.0 Attribution 2.0 Generic

Horizontal Reservations will not only provide financial stability to trans individuals but will also help in increasing their representation in government institutions. This will help in providing them a voice in the decision-making process in regard to policies and will help pave the way for inclusive policies and practices for future generations. Furthermore, reservations will empower the trans community and provide them with the hope of living a life which is free from discrimination and exploitation. The increased participation of trans people in the formal sector will also lead to job security and overall upliftment by providing safeguards from instances of abuse which they commonly face in the informal sector. However, such a change is only possible if the government also introduces strict workplace rules and regulations to ensure the protection of transgender employees from prejudiced colleagues and employers in government institutions. 

Horizontal reservations will also ensure that trans individuals live a dignified life, free of disease, since working as a sex worker increases their risk of being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV AIDS. The increased financial stability will also help them cover the medical costs of undergoing HRT and SRS, which will help in reducing gender dysphoria as well as the associated negative effects, including anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Moreover, increased trans inclusion in sectors such as education, public health, government administration, etc., will also help reduce the social stigma associated with the trans community and help prove that they are just as capable as cisgender folks. Overall, reservations will have far-reaching positive effects on the community that will improve their economic as well as social condition, allowing them to become respected members of society instead of being shunned to the margins due to lack of equal opportunities. 

Why do horizontal reservations need to be provided in all states?In 2021, Kerala became the first state in India to grant 1% horizontal reservations to trans individuals. It is high time that other states take note of this as well and work on providing horizontal reservations to trans individuals across the country since transphobic discrimination is rampant throughout the nation. An individual’s gender identity should not prevent them from accessing employment and gaining social mobility. Gender identity has nothing to do with a person’s skills and capabilities, and employers must take this into account during their hiring processes. They should also be willing to train trans individuals if they lack the experience since trans individuals face discrimination in accessing educational opportunities as well due to a lack of separate reservations in academic institutions. The fight for equality for the transgender community is a long one and requires support from the state in all sectors, including education, health, employment, law, etc. Therefore, it is essential that the state continues to make progressive moves to ensure social inclusion and economic upliftment for the trans community.