If you are among the ones, like yours truly, who got a little teary-eyed after watching the Vicks ad that surfaced on your Facebook timeline, you have company.
There's a good reason why it struck a chord with thousands of Indians, who otherwise are bombarded with 'TV commercial mothers' selling everything, from baby wipes to energy drinks all day. The 'mother' is the Indian advertisers' safest bet to reach out to a cross-section of viewers -- perhaps because, traditionally, the mother in an Indian family is tasked with deciding everything, from the detergent used in the house to the instant noodles cooked in the kitchen.
The fatigued stereotype, however, was given a fresh lease of life by the Vicks ad, which featured Gauri Sawant, a trans-woman, who has adopted a girl child. Motherhood, outside the shiny kitchenettes of television commercials, is far from homogenous, complex and fascinating. Yet, TV insists on just one kind of mother - the cis gender, heterosexual, all-sacrificing multi-tasking superwoman. So the Vicks ad's acknowledgement of trans parenthood was refreshing and necessary.
But if you manage to look past the cloud of emotions that the commercial is, you'll be faced with the disconcerting reality of transgenders in India being denied the right to adopt legally. In April 2014, the Supreme Court recognised the constitutional right of transgender people and moved beyond the male-female binary to recognise the 'third gender'.
If you manage to look past the little cloud of emotions that the commercial is, you'll be faced with the disconcerting reality of transgenders in India being denied the right to adopt legally.
But Indian adoption laws don't give a trans man or trans woman the right to legally adopt a child. Rose Ventakesan, a transgender activist based out of Chennai, told HuffPost India that trans women adopt children but that's usually an informal kind of adoption.
"Several trans women adopt children but outside the legal framework. Often very poor children are left uncared for and trans women are known to take them in and care for them. Occasionally, very poor parents informally consent to an adoption where they hand over their children to trans women who wish to care for the child," says Venkatesan.
In case you got any such idea from the Vicks ad, Venkatesan insists that trans people cannot walk into an adoption centre or orphanage, seeking to adopt a child.
"Even single cis gender men and women face a lot of issues during adoption, so you can imagine how difficult it is for trans people to adopt. It doesn't help that we can't identify as trans woman and have a legal spouse. In fact, most people don't want to date trans women openly. Not sure if the government gives legal certificates to trans women who marry. In the absence of the endorsement of law, in most practical situations, legal adoptions are pretty much a far-off dream," Venkatesan adds.
If you have by chance gotten such an idea from the Vicks ad, Venkatesan insists that trans people cannot walk into an adoption centre or an orphanage, seeking to adopt a child
Often, Venkatesan points out, reeling under poverty, parents give up their children for informal adoption to trans women. Even when a trans woman embraces a child with the explicit consent of his or her parents, she is still legally not in the clear, according to the law.
Saptarshi Mandal, who specialises in family law and teaches law at Jindal Global Law School, says trans people can still refer to Hindu laws where in an adoption can be considered a conscious act of giving by the parents and a conscious act of taking by the trans person. This does not need documentation, but, in case of dispute later, it becomes difficult for the adoptive parent to back her claims.
"You must have witnesses, and suchlike, who will vouch for you and the fact that you adopted the child with full consent of the parents," says Mandal.
If the adopted child's parents are alive, there is always a fear that the birth parents will stake a claim on the child whenever they want. "Let's say there is a transgender person who has raised a kid informally. If he or she manages to become someone of consequence, the birth parents would most definitely come to claim him or her as their own. The transgender person is then left in the lurch," says Olga Aron, a trans-activist based out of Chennai.
If the adopted child's parents are alive, there is always a fear that the birth parents will stake a claim on the child whenever they want.
The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) website provides an online registration form for couples and single men and women who want to adopt. The applicant category in the page offers just three options for adoptive parents: male, female, couple.
The Supreme Court judgment was a move in the right direction but the other machineries of the government make it difficult for trans people to benefit from the 2014 judgment. The judgment allowed anyone to declare themselves of a gender other than the one assigned at their birth, even if they have not undergone a sex change surgery. Alternatively, you can identify yourself as 'third-gender' or transgender.
"However, it is not easy to get the documentation done in these cases. For example, applying for one identity proof, you could get three options: male, female, other. Another could give you other three options: male, female, transgender. Now if it so happens that you are 'other' in your passport and 'transgender' in your driving licence, you'll get caught in unimaginable bureaucratic hassle," says Mandal.
On top of that, the process of getting these things done by government employees, who haven't been properly sensitised to different communities and question of identity, could be traumatic.
Venkatesan sums up the attitude of the government and the people to trans men and women thus: "We are not a priority."
The Vicks ad is a baby step towards normalising trans parenthood in our anxiously patriarchal society. If you liked it, maybe you'd want to support hundreds of trans men and women in their struggle to get equal rights.
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