The election commission of India’s northeastern state Manipur has engaged a local transgender model and actress to motivate the community to vote.
India’s general elections starting next month will be the first time trans Indians can vote as a third gender.
But, according to local media, not many transgender voters have registered.
Nearly 39,000 voters have registered as ‘third gender’.
But, a 2014 census found there to be at least 500,000 Indians who identified as transgender.
In South Asia, many people identify as a third gender, such as Hijra.
Hijra may have been assigned male at birth but live as women.
Some also identify as trans or intersex or just as Hijra.
Manipur enlisted transgender mode, actress, and beauty queen Bishesh Huirem as one of the ’state icons’ to encourage voter registration.
Bishesh represented India in the world’s largest trans beauty pageant, Miss International Queen.
‘Every vote counts’ the election commission wrote in a post sharing a video of Bishesh. People are can vote ‘irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender’, it said.
‘It is a great privilege to be appointed as a state icon’,’ she told The Telegraph.
‘Not only transgenders, I will to try to encourage more and more people to vote in the general elections.’
So far, only 26 people have registered as a third gender in Manipur, the paper reports.
Bishesh said the community was still reluctant to come out in the open and prefer to enlist themselves either as male or female in official documents.
Elsewhere in India, election officials held a mock polling booth and invited trans community members to practice voting.
Sneha Kale made headlines as the first-ever trans woman to run in the general election.
Last week, local government of one of India’s largest states, Karnataka, last week appointed its first transgender employee.
Last month, India’s first Miss Trans Queen joined one of the country’s largest political parties.
Earlier this year, the same party appointed its first transgender office-bearer.
Trans gurus also made history earlier this year by leading a religious procession.
Violence continues, however. One trans politician running for office in Hyderabad went missing during her election campaign.
Last month, a man decapitated a trans priestess in her temple.
India’s Supreme Court in 2014 recognized trans identities as a third gender.
But, the community remains marginalized. Families and employers shun trans individuals.
What’s more, activists have slammed a trans rights bill currently in the Upper House of Parliament. They say it further infringes rights rather than protects them.