People at the Margins: Whose Budgets? Whose Rights? The Transgender Question in India: Policy and Budgetary Priorities


This paper, by the Delhi-based non-governmental organisation Praxis, discusses the struggle for transgender rights in India. It highlights the various kinds of discrimination, exclusion and rights violations experienced by the transgender community, due to their families, society and the state.

The paper draws on a 2013 study (also by Praxis) of transgender women in Tamil Nadu, which was the first state to set up a Transgender Welfare Board (TGWB). The study examined the performance of the TGWB and reviewed its policies and budgets. This paper provides a summary of the study’s findings.

It also emphasises the need for legal and constitutional safeguards for transgender persons and for institutions that can help them access employment, education and healthcare. The paper makes policy-related recommendations and suggests ways to improve the performance of the TGWB. It also underscores the role of sensitisation programmes in challenging discriminatory attitudes towards transgender persons and preventing their exclusion.


  1. The term ‘transgender’ refers to a diverse group of people, including male-to-female or female-to-male transgender persons; those who have or have not undergone sex reassignment surgery; and those who identify as heterosexual, homosexual or multi-sexual.

  2. In India, the term commonly used for a transgender person is hijra. Aravani is a term used for a male-to-female transgender person who undergoes a sex reassignment surgery or the nirwaan, a traditional castration method.

  3. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bixesual and transgender) community in India is estimated to be around 70 million, of which the transgender community is around 6 to 7 million. However, the National AIDS Control Programme in 2011 put the number at around 0.5 to 1 million.

  4. Data on the population of transgender persons in India is scarce. But in the 2011 Census, the government included transgender as an option under the gender category, and it recommended in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) that the population of the transgender community be enumerated.

  5. The Constitution prohibits, on grounds of sex, discrimination of any kind, the denial of access to public places and goods, and the restriction of any activity. It also says that states can introduce special provisions for women and children to ensure that they are not discriminated against or denied their rights. However, it does not specific that such provisions can be introduced for transgender persons too.

  6. The Tamil Nadu government set up the country’s first Transgender Welfare Board (TGWB) in 2008. This board designs schemes in the areas of education, health, employment and housing, and ensures transgender persons have access to various social welfare schemes.

  7. The TGWB consists of the Tamil Nadu state minister for social welfare; representatives of the departments of law, finance, higher education, medical education, and employment and training; members of the state women’s and human rights commissions; and senior police personnel. The board also has representatives from the transgender community as non-official members.

  8. The TGWB’s transgender members have reported poor implementation of the schemes for transgender persons. A Right to Information query found that this was most likely the result of a low budgetary allocation to the board, and an even lower level of utilisation of funds. 

  9. The TGWB can issue identity and ration cards to transgender persons; provide grants for small businesses, self-help groups, vocational training and short-term housing; and ensure that the destitute can access a pension.

  10. The 2013 Praxis study (on which this paper is based) looked at the adolescence, adulthood and middle age of 522 male-to-female transgender persons or aravanis in Tamil Nadu. It found that various forms of discrimination from different sources at different stages limit the access of transgender persons to education and jobs, forcing them into prostitution and begging. 

  11. The paper makes recommendations to help improve the internal functioning of the TGWB as well as its ability to effectively implement welfare schemes for transgender persons.

  12. The 2014 Report of the Expert Committee on the Issues Relating to Transgender, by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, suggests short-term and long-term term measures to improve the human development indicators of the trangender community and prevent everyday exploitation and harassment.

    Focus and Factoids by Moumita Sen.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


M.J. Joseph and Tom Thomas (for Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices) 


Published by UN Women
Supported by the Ford Foundation