Kerala has once again made major headway in ensuring inclusive education by announcing two additional reserved seats for transgender students at all universities and affiliated science and arts colleges across the state. Prof. C. Ravindranath, the state Education Minister, announced the decision to embark on this progressive path in a press release, which states (sic), “the government looks forward to extending the transgender aspirants an easier access to higher education in order to ensure better social justice.”

Social Justice Department Bats for Transgender Students

The order, issued by the Kerala government, through its higher education department, followed the recommendations of the Kerala Social Justice Department that sought reservation for transgender students. The circular issued by the additional secretary MG Ranjith Kumar shed light on the context of the revolutionary move and recognized the plight of the transgender students.

It reads, “Due to societal issues, transgender students often have to discontinue their studies or join other academic institutions after an academic year or after the admission process is closed. Under these circumstances, the government is pleased to sanction two additional seats in all courses in Universities and affiliated Arts and Science colleges exclusively for admitting transgender students subject to fulfillment of qualifications. The Social Justice Department has recommended and forwarded the request for issuing special order for reserving seats for transgender students for various courses in Universities and affiliated Arts and Science Colleges.”

The order was issued to the director of collegiate education and also to registrars of different state universities, including Mahatma Gandhi University, University of Kerala, University of Calicut, CUSAT, Kannur University, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit.

Order Welcomed by the Transgender Community

Kerala’s transgender community welcomed the move with great excitement. “I am so happy to be in a progressive state, where the government and public join hands to incorporate gender minorities into the society’s mainstream. I have played a very small part behind this new move. It was Daya Gayathri, Theertha Sarvika, and Praveen, who hail from the Kerala’s transgender community, who came up with a petition to reserve seats for transgenders in university courses. I forwarded their petition to our district welfare committee and it was soon passed to the education minister’s office with prior importance. I am happy that the state education department considered our request very soon,” said Sheethal Shyam, the state president of Dwaya Charitable Society, which works for the welfare and uplift of transgenders in Kerala.

Sheethal Shyam, the State President of Dwaya Charitable Society

The decision to submit a petition was taken when three transgender students failed to get admission for higher studies in Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam. Daya Gayathri was a male student enrolled in the BA Economics course at Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam during the 2013-14 academic year. Facing frequent harassment from some of the college mates for her gender difference, she failed to complete her course. Meanwhile, she was also shunned by her family for her plans to do a sex reassignment surgery. This year, Daya had applied for the BA Malayalam Literature course at Maharaja’s College but failed to get an admission because of her poor academic records. With the new government decision, Daya will return to college, this time as a proud female scholar. Praveen Nath and Theertha will join BA English Literature at Maharaja’s College, along with Daya Gayathri. “People like us always had to fight the society’s attacks, threats from our own families and intrapersonal conflicts at the same time. Those who dream for higher education are the ones who plan big for their future, regardless of all the challenges they face. We do deserve a small reservation,” Daya told Onmanorama.

Kerala’s Tryst with Inclusive Education

Kerala has been a leader in pioneering inclusive education in the country. Recently, the Kerala State Literacy Mission had launched an exclusive literacy aid programme for the transgender community, under which a shelter home in each district of the state and monthly scholarship of up to Rs. 1,250 are provided. This was enacted as an extension of the ambitious ‘Samanwaya’ project, the first-ever comprehensive literacy and shelter programme for transgenders in India, which focuses on the free continuing education for the gender minorities in Kerala.

The programme provides the students a fourth-grade equivalence programme with a scholarship of Rs. 1,000, and those enrolled for higher secondary equivalence programme receive a scholarship of up to Rs. 1,250. The state is also set to provide a secure shelter system for transgender students to counter the practice of expelling by families. The district level shelter homes will be launched as a pilot in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts.

Kerala was also in the news recently for the fashion show organised exclusively for the transgender community, which was a runaway success in terms of raising social awareness and creating a sense of social inclusiveness. The state backed ‘Kudumbashree’ mission, which has earned global recognition for its saga of poverty eradication and women empowerment. It has recently taken up the cause of transgenders and has taken around 300 transgenders under its wing. The mission will help its members to find means of livelihood by starting micro enterprises.

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Reporting by Team edInbox