At least five transgender candidates are running for government positions in India’s national elections this month, marking what could be a major turning point for one of the country’s most historically marginalized communities.
According to Reuters, those five women include Sneha Kale, a 27-year-old who is running as an independent candidate for a seat in that nation’s parliament.
“I have the support of the weak and the marginalized,” she told Reuters. “I am pitted against strong candidates. They come from political families. But I have a [connection] with my community and those on living on the margins like sex workers, bar dancers, and widows of farmers.”
"I have the support of the weak and the marginalised."
— Openly ️ (@Openly) April 11, 2019
Kale’s run for office is especially remarkable given India’s up-and-down treatment of transgender women. Trans or gender non-conforming women, also known as hijras, were revered as a demi-gods in India for thousands of years.
However, trans and gender non-conforming Indians today are often shunned by their friends and family, and many of the country’s estimated 2 million transgender citizens turn to begging on the streets or sex work for survival.
But tides might be turning for India’s trans community: Activists say a controversial Transgender Persons Bill that passed through the country’s lower parliament house could be overturned. In fact, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress party, its two ruling political groups, have both addressed transgender issues—and vowed to shut down the bill—in their campaign platforms for this year’s election cycle.
The election process is currently underway, and results will be tallied and announced on Thursday, May 23.
Meanwhile, Kale, who was kicked out of her childhood home at 17 years old, told Reuters that larger cultural attitudes in India still have a ways to go. “So many rapes of [trans women] go unreported,” she added. “Are we not human? We are still not accepted in our homes.”
The nation’s lawmakers only decriminalized gay sex last September—and according to its top army general, gay men and women are still barred from serving in the military.