Unable to prove Indian identity, transgender who begs on trains excluded from NRC

Chandrani Sinha | Aug 12, 2018 | 5 min read


Guwahati: Over the years, 29-year-old transgender person Rinki Bora has come to terms with the fact that she will never be part of her family. But she is only now finding out that she has to pay a much higher price for breaking ties with her kin – her identity as an Indian.

Rinki is among nearly 20,000 transgender persons in Assam who have been left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as they were unable to furnish required documents. Many from the community have been disowned by their family or have fled homes. They were unable to submit the pre-1971 legacy documents to prove that their ancestors were living in Assam before 24 March, 1971.

Rinki’s case is no different. Born as Moon Bora in Upper Assam’s Lakhimpur town, Rinki was only 10 when she left home after she realised she identified herself as a woman.

“I was five when I realised I liked dressing up, wearing lipstick and being feminine. For this, I was bullied by my peers, while my two elder brothers would beat me up. My parents were ashamed of me. I decided to leave,” she says.

For a while, Rinki worked at a roadside food stall in Lakhimpur.

“One day, a customer told me that he has seen transgenders earn a good living by asking passengers in trains for money. I thought it was a good chance for me to interact with others like me and be a part of the community. So I boarded a train from Lakhimpur to Rangiya in lower Assam. The journey changed my life,” says Rinki.

Amidst others like her, Rinki says she felt accepted and even found a ‘guru’. For a decade, Rinki stayed with her guru, Zeena, another transgender person from Assam, shuttling between New Delhi and UP. In this period, she got all her government identity cards such as Aadhaar and PAN made on her Delhi address.

Later, she returned to Assam and has been living near Kamakhya Railway Station in Guwahati, earning a living by begging on trains, making up to Rs 300 daily on good days and about Rs 100 on lean days.

For 17 years, she had had no contact with her family. Until one day, two years ago, when she saw her brother while begging on a train.

“I saw him and requested him to share documents that would help me apply for the NRC. He agreed to it and I was overjoyed when we exchanged phone numbers. But after the chance meeting, I called him up several times, he did not take my call,” she says.

“I had no option but to go ahead with applying for the NRC with whatever documents I had on me,” she says, adding that she was hoping that she would be able to make it to the list with a stroke of luck.

“The issue of citizenship in Assam is different. Here, citizenship is not proved by one’s birth but through the legacy of their ancestors. I’m an Indian by birth but I need to prove my Indian legacy through documents which I don’t possess,” she says.

Rinki says that ID proofs like PAN and Aadhaar are not enough for inclusion in the NRC but that is all most members of the transgender community have. While the process of filing of claims and objections to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft published on 30 July begins on 30 August, the transgender community has been left in the lurch as most say they do not have new documents to submit.

Rinki is hopeful that NRC guidelines will be relaxed for those like her.

“There are many like me. My guru, Zeena, was also left out from the NRC list. She was disowned by her family in Jorhat. There is no way for her to get documents from them to prove her citizenship,” she says.

Zeena says, “Like Rinki, I left home at an early age. I remained in touch with my siblings in Jorhat, but they refused to cooperate in getting my name enlisted in the NRC. There is little we can do. Our families don’t want anything to do with us. We are treated like a blot on the family name.”

The All Assam Transgenders’ Association (AATA) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court for inclusion in the draft NRC which will be heard on 16 August.

Swati Bidhan Baruah, founder of AATA and Assam's first transgender person to be a judge, says that approaching Supreme Court was the only option left for people of the community.

“At least 2,000 transgenders had applied for enrolment in the NRC but barely a few made it to the list. It is not possible for transgenders to get legacy documents from their parental homes as they are mostly treated as outcasts. We are hopeful that the apex court will lend a sympathetic ear to our cause,” she says.

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