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Indian Census counts transgender people for the first time, finds half a million

The first ever count of India’s transgender population has found nearly 500,000 who were prepared to say they were transgender in filling out census papers – though activists say the real number may be far higher
Hijra Indians in a seatbelt safety campaign
Photo by YouTube

490,000 people listed themselves as ‘third gender’ or transgender in India’s most recent census – the first time the Indian Government has sought to ask how many people identify as such.

55,000 of those were under six and were thus recorded by their parents as being transgender.

66% of the people who chose the third gender box lived in rural areas – close to the 69% of the Indian population in rural areas.

However the census found that transgender Indians were more likely to be disadvantaged in education with only 46% being literate – compared to 74% in the general population.

Transgender Indians were also more likely to be out of work than the general population with only 38% working compared to 48% of Indians in general – though that figure includes children and stay at home parents.

Transgender activists in India welcomed the figures but believe there are many more transgender Indians who do not yet feel comfortable identifying as such in the census.

‘After the disappointment of the election commission's efforts, this is fantastic news for the transgender community,’ Sahodari Foundation founder Kalki Subramaniam told the Times of India, referring to India’s recent national election.

‘We were extremely disappointed because during the voter registration process only 28,341 people registered as belonging to the third gender.

‘This is a beginning and we are proud that the census could draw out part of the truth and establish that the transgender community exists and that their literacy rate is very low. They have also established that transgender children exist. It is now up to the government to bring in policy to ensure that they are not discriminated against and that they enjoy equal rights like any other children.’

Indian culture has recognized transgender women, or Hijras in Hindi, as a third gender for thousands of years and they have traditionally performed blessings and been dancers – though today they are often marginalized and forced to eek out a living in the sex industry.

Hijra Indians were recently the stars of a popular seat belt safety campaign.

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