2014 was an exciting year for India’s LGBT community. The 2014 general election was the first in which both voters and candidates could define themselves as transgender. And as voting got underway, India’s Supreme Court ruled that third gender people have the same rights as men and women. Penal code 377 which criminalises gay sex is still very much in place but this draconian law continues to be debated in the courts and there is an increasing sense that it will soon be dispensed with, 150 years after the British introduced it.
Against this backdrop, in the south Indian temple-town of Madurai, transgender campaigner Bharathi Kannamma put herself forward as a candidate in the general election. In her home state of Tamil Nadu, the transgender – or Aravani – community have seen particular gains. In 2009, the state government began providing sex-change surgery free of cost. Tamil Nadu also provides special third gender ration cards, passports and reserved seats in colleges.