The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has moved the Cabinet and wants transgender people to be included in the Other Backward Class (OBC) list, so they can avail reservations in higher education and in government jobs. In most parts of the country, the OBC category has a 27% reservation. If accepted and a law passed, the transgender community will be able to compete with the other backward classes for the 27% quota in education and jobs.
This move was applauded by some sections of society, while some others viewed this as ‘eating into’ seats reserved for people of the OBC castes. There are strong voices in the transgender community who criticise this move and demand horizontal reservation instead.
What is horizontal reservation?
Horizontal reservation refers to the provision of equal opportunity to other beneficiaries, such as women, veterans, transgender people, and people with disabilities, who fall outside of the vertical categories. A vertical reservation refers to reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes. It applies to each of the law’s designated groups in its own way.
This horizontal reservation is applied to each vertical category individually, rather than across the board. For example, if women have a 50% horizontal quota, half of the selected candidates in each vertical quota group must be women—half of the SC candidates must be women, and half of the unreserved or general category must be women. So, the horizontal quota is applied separately to each vertical category.
Reservations for Transgender People in India
As per the reports, the current modes of reservation used by Tamil Nadu and Kerala are vertical reservations, while horizontal reservations would provide for separate reservations within each vertical category. Then, 1% of ST, SC, OBC, and General Merit seats would be reserved for people of the transgender community. Currently, this is similar to how the reservation works for women and people with disabilities.
The 2014 landmark NALSA judgment held that people from the transgender community should be provided reservations. Based on this NALSA judgment, the Tamil Nadu government declared transgender individuals as part of the “Most Backward Class” category, which is akin to the OBC. Similarly, the Karnataka government implemented the reservation. One percent of all vacancies in any service or post will be filled by transgender candidates from each of the following categories: general, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, and other backward classes. Kerala’s state government had set aside two seats for ad hoc reservations in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the time. The mechanism of reservation in this case, too, makes no distinction between transgender people’s many caste identities.
Activists from the transgender community in India
In reference to the reservation for transgender people, activist Grace Banu, who was recently bestowed the ‘Best Third Gender’ award by the Tamil Nadu government for her work and contribution to transgender rights, says in an interview with a journalist, “This move by the government is an eyewash in the name of reservation. If anyone is cheering, it might be transgender people from upper castes or classes. But, Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi (DBA) trans people are disappointed by this note.”
She adds “The career, lifestyle, education, and earnings each one of us within the trans community experiences, largely depends on our caste backgrounds and the privileges that come with it. While upper caste trans persons fight for cultural rights, DBA trans persons fight for survival and employment. That’s how different the dynamics within the community are,” she adds.
Other activists, including Gee Imaan Semmalar and Living Smile Vidhya, also voiced their opinions on how clubbing transgender people with the OBC category is unfair and that, like everyone else, there are trans people from diverse caste backgrounds, different privileges, and social disabilities due to the caste locations.
Activists such as Grace Banu and Living Smile Vidya have highlighted that the transgender community has caste divisions within it. These caste divisions raise the need for reservations to recognise this intersectional and more than one level of marginalisation. So, these reservations being offered should cut across caste categories and only horizontal reservation can ensure this need is recognised.