With a subtle smile on her face, Chandni talks to her aide about the plan for the day and the neighbourhoods to campaign in Pratap Vihar – ward no. 33 in crammed neighbourhood of outer Delhi. Chandni, addressed as a ‘hijra’ by locals, is among the few eunuch candidates contesting the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections for the first time.
Ballots will be cast for 272 wards of the trifurcated MCD April 15. Close to 10 million voters will be eligible to cast the ballot.
This independent candidate belonging to the so-called third sex stands strong with her poll mantra: “Nar dekha, naari dekhi, Is baar kinnar ki baari. (You’ve voted for men and women, this time vote for a transgender)”.
“The first thing I tell people is that I am a ‘kinnar’ (transgender). My gender speaks for my identity and will to bring change in the administration,” a confident Chandni told IANS.
It was in 2009 that eunuchs were allowed to enrol themselves and contest the MCD elections as ‘others’ instead of male or female. The move enabled the community to be part of the socio-political stage.
Her election symbol is the kite, which stands for attaining height and freedom, Chandni says.
Clad in a bright pink salwar-kameez, Chandni says her job of giving blessings and dancing at celebrations is what triggered the idea to contest civic polls.
While issues like poor sanitation, drinking water supply and proper roads remain the focus of her poll promises, there have been many hiccups in the journey so far.
“People of the area know me well, so they do not oppose my presence. I am not so educated, but I am connected to the grassroots and it has helped me know the problems of Pratap Vihar and its residents,” Chandni said.
“But there are times when men tear off flags and posters, pass lewd remarks against me and my supporters. It makes me feel that somehow kinnars are not socially acceptable,” Chandni told IANS.
A native of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Chandni is inspired by her guru Asha Devi who got elected as mayor of the eastern Uttar Pradesh region in 2007. Shabnam Mausi, a eunuch from Madhya Pradesh, also entered the legislative assembly from an open constituency in 2000.
In the well-knit community, Chandni remains connected to other eunuchs who are also fighting elections. According to the community members, around seven eunuchs are contesting the civic polls in Delhi. However, the Delhi election commission is yet to ascertain the exact number.
Members of the four million-strong community countrywide feel the move will have a ripple effect, taking the community away from stigma and denial of basic rights.
“People will get to know that hijras are not just about clapping and begging at traffic signals. It will have a ripple effect within the community and larger society with empowerment as the main focus,” Abhina, a member of Alliance India, working for HIV-AIDS among transgenders and MSM, told IANS.
But in the elections that seem more of a battle between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), eunuchs are contesting independently. The political majors have not fielded any eunuch candidates.
“There was already a tough fight within the party for ticket distribution. It would have been very difficult to support a eunuch candidate when people from well-established political backgrounds were in the fray,” said a BJP source.
Even as obstacles loom and questions remain, activists say the participation of eunuchs reflects a ‘huge shift in attitude’.
“The very fact that a community that was looked down upon by society is now standing for elections is a huge shift in mindset. Let’s see what this turns into,” Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation, which advocates the rights of sexual minorities in the country, told IANS.
With the onus resting with the people of Delhi, the picture will be clear after the D-Day.
“I think it is governance and corruption that matter for people in the elections. Gender, caste, creed stand nowhere if a candidate wants to work for the people,” said Sanjay Kaul, president of the United Residents Joint Action of Delhi, the apex body of Delhi residents’ welfare associations.