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Third Gender Denoted As A 'Caste' In Bihar's Caste-Based Headcount Survey

The ongoing headcount of social groups in Bihar by the state government has sparked controversy over the enumeration of members of the third gender as a separate caste. Castes will now be identified by numerical codes during the second phase of the caste-based headcount, with third gender assigned the code 22, leading to criticism from activists who claim the move goes against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules.

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International Transgender Day of Visibility
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The much publicized ongoing exercise of the headcount of social groups in Bihar by the state government has run into fresh controversy over enumeration of members of 'third gender' as a separate caste. Castes in Bihar will now be identified on the basis of codes, in the form of numbers, and each caste has been given a numerical code for use during the month-long second phase of caste-based headcount from April 15 to May 15. For instance, the sub-categories of Maithil, Kanyakubj and other Brahmins have been merged into a single social entity called Brahmin, which will have caste code as 126. No separate enumeration of its sub-categories will be done. 

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Similarly, the caste code of the Rajput is 169, Bhumihar (142), Kayastha (21) and for members of 'third gender' is 22. Total 215 codes have been allotted to different castes and 'third gender' has also been considered as caste with the allotment of a separate caste code. Terming the state government’s move of considering 'third gender' a separate caste in the ongoing exercise as a 'criminal act', Reshma Prasad, founder secretary of Dostanasafar, a Bihar-based NGO, on Friday told PTI, "How can gender identity of a human being, become his/her caste? Can 'male' or 'female' be considered as caste similarly, how can 'transgender' be considered as caste ? People belonging to transgender community can be of any caste".

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The move is against the 'Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules' that talk about the prevention of non-discrimination of transgender persons, said Reshma Prasad. "The social welfare department of the state government must intervene into the matter so that gender identity of a person should not be considered as caste. I will definitely write to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in this regard and seek his immediate intervention into the matter. It’s a sheer injustice with people belonging to transgender community". As per the 2011 Census, the total population of transgender persons in Bihar is 40,827.

Echoing a similar view, Grace Banu, a known trans person rights activist and a software engineer from Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu), told PTI over phone, "The move of the Bihar government is simply 'a social injustice' with people belonging to transgender community.  How 'transgender', which is a gender identity, can be considered as caste ?…there are so many castes in transgender community. If the state government (Bihar government) does not know how to count the transgender people, we are here to help them". "In the path breaking judgment in National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) vs Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court made an authoritative pronouncement that transgenders be treated as 'third gender' for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of the Constitution, as well as under the laws made by Parliament and state legislatures. This social injustice of the Bihar government needs to be rectified immediately....gender of a person cannot be considered as caste at all", said Banu.

Justifying the demand of people belonging to transgender community, Vidyarthi Vikas, Assistant Professor, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies (Patna), said, "It must be rectified immediately gender identity of a person can not be considered as caste. There should be a separate column for transgender in gender categories. Freedom should be given to them (trans people), if they want to disclose their caste identities. In that condition their caste should be mentioned in caste categories".

Reacting to this, Bihar Social Welfare Minister, Madan Sahni, told PTI, "If they (transpeople) have any issues with the ongoing exercise of caste-based headcount, including codes allotted to different castes, they must approach the department concerned and discuss with senior officials. The Grand alliance government in Bihar has already taken several welfare measures for improving the socio-economic condition of the people belonging to transgender community". Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has always maintained that caste-based headcount would benefit all sections of the society. The enumeration exercise, which started from January 7, will be completed by May, 2023. The state government will spend Rs 500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise. The General Administration department is the nodal authority for the survey.

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