The case of a Delhi-based transsexual who wants her name and gender changed in official documents is testing the boundaries of legal procedure.
The Delhi High Court has issued a notice to the central government to respond to a petition by a transsexual person whose name and gender the government is refusing to change in its official records.
She likes to call herself Jackie Lynn*, but the 24-year-old was born Jaideep Sharma*. Always feeling like a woman in a man’s body, her petition says, she started administering hormonal therapy at a very young age. If you meet her, you’ll probably not be able to tell she’s transsexual, according to her lawyer.
Trouble is, all of Jackie’s official documents call her Jaideep Sharma. She works as an independent corporate consultant in Delhi, having been to an elite city school and been estranged with her parents. When she signs contracts to send clients her bank account details, they realize Jackie is Jaideep. The transphobia is obvious when clients go cold, when landlords refuse the house they were willing to rent out until they saw her identification documents, and so on.
The transphobia is obvious when clients go cold.
Fed up with this discrimination, Jackie knocked the doors of the Government of India to change her name and gender in all identification documents, to bury Jaideep and move on in life.
Your name or gender is changed when the Controller of Publications notifies it in the Gazette of India. Before the Controller of Publications does so, it needs to see a copy of an affidavit where you say you are making this change, and a newspaper advertisement about it.
Armed with these two documents, Jackie and her lawyer went to the office of the Controller of Publications in north Delhi’s Civil Lines. The official there wanted a doctor’s certificate showing a sex reassignment surgery.
Jackie has been self-administering hormone therapy since she was 14. She took hormone blockers and experienced puberty as a woman. She can’t afford a sex reassignment surgery for now, and a recent Supreme Court judgement says the government can’t ask her to have one.
The official at the Controller of Publications asked her to look at the sex change guidelines on its website, which clearly demand proof of the surgery. When her lawyer mentioned the Supreme Court guidelines, it didn’t cut ice. The apex court, in its 2014 judgement National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors, had said, “Centre and state governments should seriously address the problems being faced by Hijras/Transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS [sex reassignment surgery] for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.”
Jackie has been self-administering hormone therapy since she was 14. She took hormone blockers and experienced puberty as a woman.
The ministry of social justice and empowerment has drafted a bill for transgender rights that says sex reassignment surgery is not mandatory for one to identify as any gender--man, woman or transgender.
Given that the Controller of Publications wasn’t budging, Jackie and her lawyer asked to just change the name without changing the gender. The official, however, insisted that Jackie was a woman’s name.
The lawyer, Rohit Kaliyar, gave the example of men with the exact same name that his client wants to use. For instance, although Jackie is predominantly a woman's name, there are men named Jackie Shroff and Jackie Chan. The official said that for Jaideep to become Jackie, there would first have to be a gender change, for which they needed an SRS certificate.
Jackie and her lawyer pointed out there were many men with female-sounding names in India. They gave the example of Kiren Rijiju, union minister of state for home affairs, whose first name sounds similar to that of his fellow BJP MP Kirron Kher. But the officer won’t budge.
Jackie and her lawyer pointed out there were many men with female-sounding names in India.
Jackie argued it was her choice to give herself whatever name she wanted. The guidelines for name change did not say anything about gender identity.
“What about the surname?” the officer asked. What problem did he have with Lynn? How could he deny someone the right to call him/herself whatever she wants? “I am not authorised to take any decision on this,” he said, and that was that.
He didn’t say as much, but his problem with the name change may not just be about gender, but also religion. Jackie Lynn is a name many would presume to be Christian.
The guidelines for name change demand that if you are changing your name such that it sounds like that of a different religion, but in fact you are not changing your religion, the applicant will have to give a signed undertaking that “confirms that he/she is not changing his/her religion”.
Moving the Delhi High Court, she has agreed to be examined by doctors. The lawyers, Rohit Kaliyar and Karan Sharma, argued, “The petitioner is a hard working individual who wants nothing more than what has been already given to other citizens of India–-the right to lead a dignified life.”
The Delhi High Court has asked the ministry of social justice and empowerment, and the Controller of Publications, to respond within four weeks, and has set 16 August as the next date of hearing.
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