Kerala in general and its health minister in particular, KK Shylaja, are on such a roll. In April, we were talking about how Shylaja had just inaugurated two clinics with the focus of treating depression in women in Kerala.
Today, it’s being reported that Shylaja announced that “transgender clinics” will be opened in all medical colleges in the state of Kerala, and that one such clinic in Kottayam is already open and functioning once a month. Five medical professionals, specialising in general medicine, psychiatry, dermatology, endocrinology and plastic surgery, will operate from the clinic. The government also plans to open two surgical wings to help in gender reassignment surgeries. Transgender volunteers and a para-legal volunteer will also be posted at the clinics to offer a comprehensive variety of vital services to the community. The treatment will be free, and transgender people will be issued “health cards”.
This all sounds really very promising, but for this health card business. This news from Kerala coincides with an ongoing debate about the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, which is soon to be discussed in Parliament. Transpeople and activists say that the Bill will end up being exclusionary as it only guarantees certain services and protections to “card-carrying” transpeople, meaning that Bill will mandate that the government issue identification to transpeople if they want to avail of these protections.
But such a stipulation flies in the face of what it really means to be trans. The government has mandated that to get this ID card, you must go through a “screening process”, which involves a medical officer and psychiatrist or psychologist who will decide if you’re trans, or trans enough to get ID. Meaning that it isn’t enough for you to know in your mind that you are trans: no, the government’s doctors and psychologists need to measure and decide that for you.
The ID card stipulation also poses the risk of “pathologising trans identities”, subjecting some communities to a greater, more unnecessary and more invasive medical interference and scrutiny than others.
To be fair, the Kerala government is indeed taking a great step in forming these clinics to address the health concerns of transpeople. But if the Centre’s insistence on transpeople being issued ID cards in order to be recognised as trans does affect who gets to avail the services and protections offered to the community, it’ll end up being far less than the truly revolutionary social welfare program it could be.