New Delhi: Transgenders have remained "untouchables" with restricted access to facilities like education and much is needed to be done for them, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said.
"By and large, they have remained untouchables in the society and normally, they are not even admitted in schools and other educational institutions. Much remains to be done for them," a bench comprising justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri said.
The remarks came during the hearing of a PIL filed by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), a statutory body, seeking to declare transgenders as citizens with a third category of gender with equal protection and rights like others falling under the category of either male or female.
NALSA is constituted to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society and organise Lok Adalats for amicable resolution of disputes.
"Judicial and Constitutional recognition of transgenders will enable the state to do the needful. The govenrnment has also set up a task force and it would strengthen their hands and propel them to act further," senior advocate Raju Ramchandran, appearing for NALSA, said.
"Every human being has sexual characteristics and the transgenders cannot be discriminated against on the ground of sex," he said, adding they would fall within the expression "socially and educationally backward class of citizens" discussed in Article 15 (4) of the Constitution.
He also cited the Mandal judgement and said the benefits of reservation be extened to transgenders.
The lawyer also referred to the legal position in the United Kingdom, European Union, USA and South Africa on the issue.
Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre and state governments to apprise it of their stands on the PIL seeking to declare transgenders as citizens with a third category of gender with equal protection and rights like others.
Earlier, the court had issued notices to the Social Justice and Empowerment, Women and Child Development, Urban and Rural Development and Health and Family Welfare ministries on the PIL that alleged that the transgenders have been deprived of many of their fundamental rights which others enjoy as citizens.
The PIL has also sought reservation for transgenders in educational institutions and job opportunities in public and private sectors.
"The transgenders are deprived of social and cultural participation, are shunned by family and society, have only restricted access to education, health services and public spaces and have restricted rights as citizens such as right to marry, to contest elections, to vote, employment and livelihood opportunities and various human rights such as voting, obtaining passport, driving licence, ration card, identity card etc.
"The transgenders are treated as legal non-entity in violation of Articles 14, 15, 16 and 21 of the Constitution," the PIL said.
"It is submitted that all citizens have a right to vote and to contest elections. But in the electoral rolls, only two categories of the sex are mentioned - male and female. This is unfair to the third sex of India as they are deprived of their statutory right to vote and contest elections," it said.
The PIL said that in such a background there was a need for a direction to include "transgender" as a third category of sex in matters of opportunities or facilities, including in application forms for election card, passport, driving licence, identification card, ration card, admission to educational institutions and for provision of medical treatment, hospitalisation, toilet facilities etc.
The plea added there was a need to recognise the right of transgenders to adopt children and to marry and for grant of legal status to the community so that they get financial support and help for free sex reassignment surgery and other treatments in government hospitals.