In a historic moment for India’s LGBT rights and representation, transwoman activist and journalist Apsara Reddy was appointed as the general secretary of the All India Mahila Congress (AIMC) on Tuesday, becoming the first transgender to hold office in the Congress’s history.
Congress-linked newspaper, National Herald, hailed her appointment as a “message of inclusivity beyond the set social norms”. Party president Rahul Gandhi and AIMC president Sushmita Dev were seen posing for a photograph with the new general secretary after the announcement, which was later tweeted from the official party account.
Dev claimed that Apsara’s dynamic personality would be a great asset to the party while Congress leader Priyanka Chaturvedi welcomed Reddy in a tweet:
The move received praise from all quarters including the transgender community and its allies.
Who is Apsara Reddy?
The former journalist with an extensive portfolio at the BBC World Service, Deccan Chronicle and the Hindu had joined the AIADMK party in 2016 after a brief stint at the BJP.
“All my life, transgender women have been told that you’ll never be able to make it in your life. To be welcomed into one of India’s largest and oldest national parties is hugely emotional for me,” said Apsara upon joining the Congress body which has been led by the likes of Ambika Soni and Girija Vyas in the past.
With a specialisation in investigative journalism from Monash University and a masters in Developmental Economics from the City University of London, Apsara has served as a media advisor at the Indian Consulate in Melbourne and worked with the UNICEF to launch a health awareness campaign in Tamil Nadu.
As a journalist, she had interviewed eminent personalities including former Australian PM John Howard, F1 racer Michael Schumacher, A.R. Rahman, Hollywood star Nicolas Cage, and Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. She had also covered the 2004 tsunami during her career in the media which also included working at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and the New Indian Express.
Her upcoming career in the Congress is not her first tryst with Indian politics. At the AIADMK, which she joined in 2016, Reddy soon found herself gravitating towards the pro-Sasikala Natarajan camp after party supremo Jayalalitha’s death. Shortly before her stint at the AIADMK, Reddy had joined the BJP but quit shortly afterward, stating that her gender status was being used for optics by the party.
What the role means to her
Following her appointment to AIMC, Reddy told the press, “BJP government has this patronising attitude towards us. We don’t need charity, we need assistance to bridge the inequality meted out to us for far too long.”
A lifelong activist for transgender rights, Reddy added, “I come from a background where I was exposed to many prejudices and injustices quite early on. The hypocrisy and discrimination only motivated me to work against injustice. India is being governed by forces that place far more importance on religious identity than the rights and dignity of women. Congress is truly a party that built India and sustained us for generations with good policy and a sensitive and inclusive approach in governance. Rahul Gandhi’s commitment to the fair representation of women, women-centric manifesto goals and dynamism are truly inspiring and I would be delighted to serve women across the country under his leadership.”
Why it matters
The progressive move arrives amidst rancorous agitation against the transgender bill introduced by the BJP government last year, and right in time for the Lok Sabha elections later this year. Congress has been at the helm of quite of few of them of late, with party president Rahul Gandhi organising an exclusive press conference with 100 female journalists and promoting himself as a more feminist and LGBT-friendly prime ministerial candidate.
Moreover, Reddy’s appointment to the women’s wing holds greater significance than a gender-neutral title in the party’s leadership would have.
This is, however, not the first instance that prestigious positions are being extended to the trans community, which has been historically marginalised and continues to be severely persecuted as the third gender. Tamil Nadu appointed the country’s first trans police officer, while a West Bengal college appointed a transwoman as its principal.
Greater representation of trans people across sectors including law, law enforcement, education and politics serve to reduce discrimination against them, consolidating their rights, opinions, interests and social security. However, without sensitisation, awareness and proper backing of laws to protect minorities, progressive moves amount to nought, as was evinced in Manabi Banerjee’s case. Appointed as the principal of Bengal’s Krishnanagar Women’s College with much fanfare in 2015, she had to vacate the position within a year, following outrageous discrimination from students, colleague and neighbours.
Bill of bad health
The flawed Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, is an excellent example of how the law fails the community. It faces vociferous opposition from activists who claim that by mandating gender reassignment surgery, the Bill in its current form violates a top court judgment which states that the only thing needed to acknowledge a person’s gender identity is their word for it. The proposed legislation further calls for a ban on begging (a huge blow to hijras and kinnars) and infantilises them by controlling where they live (family/rehab centre), while failing to address gaps in healthcare for and violence against trans people.
At a time like this, an inclusionary move enhances visibility and empowers them against regressive provisions aimed at further crippling the community.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.