The Supreme Court of India
The apex court in the country, in a landmark judgment on Tuesday, April 15, recognized transgender as a third gender. This is the first time the section of society is being properly recognized in the country. Reuters/B Mathur

India’s Supreme Court in a judgment Tuesday pronounced that transgender people could identify themselves as a third gender in the country, directing the Indian government to officially recognize people who don't identify as male or female.

The court asked the Indian government to allow transgender people to be eligible for affirmative action under an existing official classification and that they be allowed into educational institutions and be hired based on the new third gender category. The judgment also said that states should create special departments to look into their needs and medical issues. The verdict was passed following an appeal filed by National Legal Services Authority, a human rights organization, urging the apex court to give a separate identity to transgender people who have been historically discriminated against in the country.

“In order to translate the aforesaid rights of TGs (Transgenders) into reality, it becomes imperative to first assign them their proper ‘sex’. As is stated earlier, at the time of birth of a child itself, sex is assigned. However, it is either male or female. In the process, the society as well as law, has completely ignored the basic human right of TGs to give them their appropriate sex categorization. Up to now, they have either been treated as male or female. This is not only improper as it is far from truth, but indignified to these TGs and violates their human rights,” the bench said in the judgment.

The landmark decision, which allows transgender people to be officially recognized for the first time in the country, follows the court’s ruling in December reinstating a ban on gay sex, which New Delhi’s High Court had legalized.

“The progress of the country is dependent upon human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgment as the Supreme court has given us those rights," Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, an activist fighting for the rights of transgender people said according to the Times of India, a national newspaper.

The judgment said, "The issue of transgender is not merely a social or medical issue but there is a need to adopt human right approach towards transgenders," adding: "We are of the firm opinion that by recognizing such Transgenders as third gender, they would be able to enjoy their human rights, to which they are largely deprived of for want of this recognition."