With 2020 springing surprises AKA ‘shocks’ every day, this may be another addition to the list but this time it might be good! To our surprise, we may see transgenders in the military very soon! You may not be aware, but this topic has often sparked a wide array of passionate responses. The myths, the facts, the stereotypes mingled with the uncertainty that surrounds the ‘trans’ talks, often makes it hard to decipher how controversial the topic of transgenders in the military, is.
If you’ve got some mind bogglers as to what this is all about? Why haven’t we ever seen trans people in the forces? Is it allowed? Is it such a big deal? And many more of these questions, you’re about to get some answers.
The Indian army which is renowned for its resilience and grit may soon have transgenders joining its ranks. The Indian Government is pushing to include transgenders in the military forces of the Nation, however, this move would come with its own share of wrangles.
Transgenders in the military: is this the first time?
Currently, there is no provision to hire transgender people in the Central paramilitary forces of the Indian army, however, there have been instances of transgender people being appointed as police officers in India. Tamil Nadu appointed India’s first transgender police officer in 2015, while Chhattisgarh was the first to actively recruit members of the transgender community in its police force. The guidelines for recruiting LGBT community members in the state police were kept unaltered, meaning, the same existing rules applicable for recruiting other genders, were applied while recruiting transgenders for the police force.
Though Indian states have welcomed this recruitment of trans people in the forces, it still remains a debatable issue since the fitness of an individual is of paramount importance while joining the forces.
Fitness to serve
Any person with a male body should meet the male fitness standards, and likewise for those with a female body. Transgender people who can meet these standards, of their physical bodies, are allowed to serve in the army. However, transitioning is where the problem lies. Transgenders often go years without detecting the mismatch of gender with their physical bodies.
Gender Dysphoria is a mental condition that most transgender people have to face during their lifetime. Treatment generally includes counselling, changes to grooming, clothing, and lifestyle, medication to alter hormone levels, and a variety of surgical procedures to make permanent alterations to the body. Depending on the nature of the deployment and the severity of the GD diagnosis, members may be able to complete some of their transition while deployed in the forces and take care of other aspects. Many trans people stay clear of the army as the cost of sex reassignment surgery, to meet the fitness standards is a lot of money!
Among all of this, however, the Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the Central Armed Police Forces for their views on recruiting transgenders in the military.
India plans to recruit transgenders in military forces
The MHA wants to include the ‘third gender’ as an eligibility criterion for an upcoming recruitment examination. This is due to be conducted for the selection of Assistant Commandants.
The Border Security Force, the second-largest of the country’s seven paramilitary forces - collectively called the Central Armed Police Forces, has already replied in the affirmative to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ proposal. However, four other forces - the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) - are yet to respond.
One might wonder why India has suddenly begun to push for this radical alteration in its rigid norms.
Why the sudden move?
The transgender community still faces pervasive discrimination when it comes to work opportunities. Studies suggest that 78 per cent experienced at least one form of harassment or mistreatment at work. Thus, the move by the Indian Government is in line with the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, notified by the central government in December last year. According to this Act, no establishment shall discriminate against transgender persons in matters relating to employment, recruitment, promotion etc.
While the move to include transgenders in military forces may seem forward, trans rights activists say this is discriminatory.
Why activists are criticising the move
Trans people, wishing to apply, need to obtain a certificate from the Government. Additionally, the trans person who wants to identify as a trans man or trans woman has to show proof of a sex reassignment surgery. “I think it [the proposal to recruit transgender people into the paramilitary forces] is a big political gambit for inclusion because the on-ground reality is that nothing has changed for the trans community,” Santa Khurai, a trans rights activist says.
“How will they recognise a trans person in the recruitment process? Are they going to force us to have surgery to identify as trans, or do we have the choice to determine our own identity?” she said.
What’s happening overseas
On April 12, 2019, the Trump administration banned transgender individuals from serving in the military. This ended an Obama-era policy that allowed trans men and women to serve openly and to receive transition-related medical care while enlisted.
The current policy allows service members who received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria prior to April 2019 to continue to serve in their preferred gender. Any troops who are currently serving in the military and have been diagnosed with GD post-2019, are required to serve as per their sex assigned at birth. They cannot seek transition-related care.
Looks like India is going to set some benchmarks as far as the trans community serving in the military goes.