By Ila Ananya
On Monday, the Centre reportedly issued an advisory to all state governments according to which transpeople should be allowed to use public toilets of their choice. We aren’t sure why this is a big deal because it isn’t new: In the 2014 Supreme Court judgment on the “third gender”, the ruling had included a directive for separate toilets for transpeople in public places.
Of course, this hasn’t been followed. Mysore seems to be the only place that has such a separate public toilet, and that to it only has one. Just recently, yesterday, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to build separate public toilets for transpeople who want to use them, in response to a PIL that had been filed.
What’s annoying, though, is that the Centre’s move is being hailed (just look at the headline) in various reports as a great, progressive move, only in comparison to the United States of America, where this has been an ongoing controversy. It’s reportedly come at a time when North Carolina was reluctant to pass the law repealing its bill that didn’t allow transpeople to choose which bathrooms they wanted to use. It’s frustrating that India is being hailed as progressive when places like Karnataka have also made moves to arrest transwomen begging on roads in Bangalore. The move is essentially harassment, even though the government claims to be ‘rehabilitating’ them, they have no structures in place for this rehabilitation.
We all talk about navigating public spaces with ease, without actually asking people how easy they find it to do so. What is the point in hailing the Centre’s move (and it’s only an advisory that states aren’t bound to follow), when this is something that should have been done a long time ago—for instance when the Supreme Court directive came into place, even though that in itself was much delayed? We all know how hard it is for women to use public toilets because there are so few, and our cities seem to be constructed around enabling men—but when are we ever going to start having conversations and asking transpeople what they want?