Yesterday, Union Minister Ramdas Athawale was speaking at a national workshop on ‘Developing Modules for Sensitising Transgender People and Stakeholders’, organised at the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.
Except it isn’t transgender people who need sensitising, but folks like Athawale.
I wasn’t at the event, but I can hazard a guess that nobody asked him for fashion advice. Still, referring to transpeople, Athawale said, “They are not men or women. Hence, they shouldn’t wear sarees.” He goes on to rationalise this statement with some pure logic: “They can wear pant and shirt. They should be wearing men’s dress.”
As if the irony isn’t high enough already, while speaking at the event, he expressed his support for The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, which seeks to reduce discrimination around the transgender community and offer them meaningful rights and protections, and assured those present that the Centre would make efforts to pass the Bill, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha in 2016, as quickly as possible.
This sort of thing is bound to keep happening, though. When you support an “issue” without a deeper understanding of the complexities associated with it, gaffes like this are only to be expected. In late June, when the Kochi Metro was inaugurated, it was widely reported that 23 transpeople had been hired by Kochi Metro in a move that seemed great on the surface. Until about a week later, when it was revealed that 8 of them had quit within days, because while they had been provided jobs, they were struggling to find housing in the area. These are the side-effects of a token interest in an issue, and just go to show that all of us, but most especially Union Ministers like Ramdas Athawale, need to understand issues and communities deeply and meaningfully before attempting to “help” them.