05/04/2017 10:31 AM IST | Updated 05/04/2017 11:02 AM IST

Centre Issues Circular Saying Transgenders Free To Use Male Or Female Public Toilets

SC accorded transgenders third-gender status three years ago.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a welcome push to promote greater inclusivity for the third gender, a recent circular issued by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation says that they should be allowed to use public toilet facilities of their choice.

However, using a toilet facility can prove tricky for transgender people. A report published in 2016 by Reuters said that going to public toilets often means enduring "stares, sniggering, taunts and threats of violence" for transgenders.

When the Supreme Court accorded 'third gender' status to transgender people in 2014, the verdict included a directive to build separate toilets for them in public places, including hospitals. But as of August 2016, Mysore was the only Indian city with a single third-gender public toilet.

On Tuesday, the Madras High Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to build public toilets for transgenders, especially in areas where they live in large numbers. The court's directive was in response to a PIL claiming that the availability of public toilets was an important issue for the community in addition to education and employment.

Data gathered by groups which study issues related transgenders show that in a city such as Bengaluru, public toilets and parks are the two places where they are most likely to get assaulted.

While places in other countries, such as Long Beach, California in the United States, have started moving towards gender-neutral toilets which requires every rest-room to be available for every gender, Reuters quoted an Indian transgender activist saying that the step only "sounds nice on paper". According to her, gender-neutral toilets would only lead to an increase in harassment of transgenders.

The sanitation ministry circular also lauds the role of many transgenders in championing the government's Swachhata Abhhiyan and adds that recognising their efforts would help break the stigma around them and perhaps allow them to use public-toilets without embarrassment.

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