India: Census finds half a million trans people

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The first census in India to contain a third gender option has found nearly half a million trans people.

The data from the census, conducted last year, found 490,000 people identified themselves as ‘third gender’, which is used to refer to trans and intersex people – known culturally as Hijras.

According to the data, around 55,000 of those who were identified as third gender were under the age of six.

Last month, India’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of legal recognition of a third gender ‘transgender’ option, which allows transgender people to identify themselves as such on official documents.

During registration for last month’s General Election – one of the first times the third option was available – just under 30,000 people registered as third gender, with activists claiming some people were reluctant to officially identify as transgender.

Trans activist Kalki Subramaniam told the Times of India: “After the disappointment of the election commission’s efforts, this is fantastic news for the transgender community. We were extremely disappointed because during the voter registration process only 28,341 people registered as belonging to the third gender.”

Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation said even the figure of half a million was still likely to be far too low.

The data also found lower levels of literacy among trans people, at just 46%, compared to 74% in the general population.

Gopalan said: “I am not surprised that the literacy rate is so low because it is not uncommon at all for [transgender people] to drop out of school because of the harassment and discrimination they face.”

Bharathi Kannamma, 53, became one of the first trans people to run for parliament in India last month, though she eventually lost out.