New Delhi: When census officials hit the road for the mammoth task of counting the billion plus people, transgenders will ensure they are counted for the first time ever, after the government decided on their inclusion in the 2011 population count as a separate category.
Transgenders' addition in the census process in the 'others' category is hailed by the community members and activists as a recognition which, they hope, will inch the "faceless people" closer to other basic rights like voting and crimes against them being registered.
"This is a leap forward for us. Till now we were unknown people... now, we will have some status in our own country," said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, an activist of international repute who works for the community through her campaign group 'Astitva'.
The 32-year-old transgender, who holds the credit of being the only eunuch in the UN's Civil Society Task Force on HIV/AIDS, said they have been yearning for this recognition for many years and that the move will give them their basic rights and respect as a human being.
In the current practice, the community is included in the Census as 'males'. The government's Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had proposed that during the 2011 Census, males will be given code one, females two and for transgenders it will be 'code three', which was accepted.
Anjali of Naz foundation, an NGO that works for transgenders' issues welcomed the government's move saying, "the benefit is that you are acknowledged... from being unknown, you are seen as a part of citizenry".
Though, roughly, there are about 500,000 transgendered people across India, she said the biggest advantage of including transgenders in the Census is that the government will, for the first time, have an actual head count of the shunned community.
"Ask any NGO in the country, any state government if they have the population of transgenders and they will only deny it. This census will change all of that," Anjali said.
After the government's announcement, activists have been busy sensitising about it by holding camps and spreading the word through other means of communication.
"It is important that each transgender person is made aware of this crucial development and is not left out. NGOs and activists are networking to ensure that maximum number of people of the community are part of the Census process," Laxmi said.
Soni Haji, president, Transgender Association of India, underscored the importance of being part of the Census by saying that it has injected a feeling of empowerment.
"It is an empowering feeling to be included in the Census process. It also means the power of getting an identity. But, much more needs to be done," said Haji.
Soni and others of the community are filled with glee as their long-pending demands for ration cards, health benefits is likely to become a reality soon.
Transgenders are hopeful that being part of the Census will also get the law to recognise and register the various crimes against the community, which was not the case till now.
Magsaysay award-winning retired IPS officer/activist Kiran Bedi hailed the decision and said this should have a cascading effect on various related issues like the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) registering offences against transgenders.
"At the moment, they are a lost group. Once they become a specific, special group they will be part of the society.
Once they are part of the Census it should be just a matter of time before the NCRB also recognises them," Bedi said.
So, how do members of one the most marginalised community in the country plan to handle a cautious Census official who will enter their lane?
"Oh ! in the typical way Indians celebrate... there will be dance and music and we will do all we can to make the official comfortable. We will keep all required documents ready and finally announce to the world that India has opened up," said Soni.