Indian Trans Community Seeks Horizontal Reservations in Pride Month

As June marks the unfolding of pride month worldwide, commemorating the courage displayed during the Stonewall Uprising—where queer individuals defiantly…

Indian Trans Community Seeks Horizontal Reservations in Pride Month

A member and supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) holds a placard against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill while taking part in a pride parade in New Delhi on November 24, 2019. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

As June marks the unfolding of pride month worldwide, commemorating the courage displayed during the Stonewall Uprising—where queer individuals defiantly stood against ceaseless harassment, enduring tear gas, a fire bomb, and even forming spirited kick lines—the queer community in India continues its tireless struggle for equal rights.

In a tumultuous turn of events, a peaceful protest led by Dalit trans activist Grace Banu and the Trans Rights Now Collective saw over 15 transgender individuals forcibly detained by the Chennai Police near Chennai’s Kalaignar Karunanidhi Memorial. The demonstrators were advocating for horizontal reservations for transgender people in education and employment.

Horizontal reservations refer to separate reservations within each category, including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and the General Category. This system would allocate a percentage of seats specifically for transgender individuals in educational institutions and workplaces.


According to the 2011 census, there are approximately 4.88 million transgender individuals in India.

“In our society, trans individuals, particularly those from marginalized communities like Dalits, bear the weight of double oppression,” stressed Banu, underscoring the profound challenges they encounter. She passionately argued that to address the unique circumstances of trans individuals, it is crucial to provide reservations in both their specific caste category and as transgender individuals. Banu firmly asserted that the absence of horizontal reservations severely restricts the opportunities available to trans persons, resulting in their continued marginalization.

Following the 2014 NALSA judgment that called for reservations for trans people, the Tamil Nadu government took a step forward in 2017 by including the trans community in the “Most Backward Class” (MBC) category. However, activists advocating for trans rights have shed light on an important issue: the MBC category is treated as distinct from other categories.

This poses a challenge for Dalit trans individuals, as receiving reservations under the MBC category for trans individuals could mean they are unable to access reservations under the Scheduled Caste (SC) category, and vice versa. The existing system inadvertently creates a barrier that hinders equal opportunities for these individuals within both caste and transgender categories.

In 2021, the center proposed including transgender persons in the list of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Similarly, ad-hoc reservations are provided to trans people in Kerala, albeit without distinguishing between their different caste identities. The Karnataka government initially followed a similar approach until a legal battle initiated by the organization Jeeva prompted the introduction of horizontal reservations for trans people across castes.

Driven by their determination, activists like Grace Banu have taken their fight to multiple high courts, including those in Delhi, Madras, Karnataka, and Rajasthan. They have filed petitions advocating for horizontal reservations that would secure government jobs and educational opportunities for trans individuals. Banu herself took a significant step by submitting an application to the Supreme Court on 27 March, seeking clarification on whether the NALSA judgment endorsed horizontal or vertical reservations. Regrettably, the bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud declined to hear the case, posing a hurdle in their quest for justice.

Transgender activists are determined to continue their fight for horizontal reservations, stressing that welfare policies are insufficient without the recognition and enforcement of their rights. They believe that only through horizontal reservations can they attain educational, political, health, personal security, and employment rights on par with other marginalized communities.

Highlighting the flaws in government welfare schemes, Ritushree Panigrahi, a lawyer, stand-up comedian, and the founder of Outcast Collective, strongly asserts that such initiatives are nothing more than “pinkwashing.” According to her, pinkwashing represents the most egregious form of discrimination, as it capitalizes on the traumatic experiences of marginalized individuals. Panigrahi questions the effectiveness of government welfare schemes in truly supporting and uplifting the transgender communities.

“We are not pleading for mere survival; we are demanding our rightful dignity, as guaranteed by the highest court in the NALSA judgment,” she passionately states. Panigrahi clarifies that their fight is not driven by a desire for sympathy, but a resolute demand for their fundamental rights. This crucial distinction sets apart their call for horizontal reservation from the purported welfare schemes, which fall short of addressing the deeper issues at hand.

Meena, a dedicated advocate for trans rights from Darjeeling stresses that horizontal reservations are merely one piece of the puzzle. According to her, true progress can only be achieved by establishing a foundation of supportive structures, such as workplace non-discrimination policies and inclusive gender-affirming measures, in addition to reservations.