The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: The Navy’s reaction to a sailor’s sex change underscores India’s problem with gender

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Gender bender

On Monday, the Indian Navy sacked a sailor for undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Manish Giri was fired for changing her gender from male to female.

Technically, the Navy contends that the surgery allowed them to fire Giri since service rules and regulations bar for the alteration of “gender status or medical condition”. Yet, this narrow legal bar aside, this case raises some urgent questions on how India deals with gender.

Giri joined the Indian Navy in 2010. In 2016, she underwent gender reassignment surgery in order to become a woman. When the Navy came to know of her change in gender, troublingly, it treated it as a psychiatric issue. Giri claims she was confined in the male psychiatric ward for six months. She calls it “like being in jail”. Soon, Giri was transferred to an administrative job and after a while, fired from the Navy altogether.

“How can they discharge me because I underwent sex change? I remain the same old person with the same potential and efficiency. I can perform my duties as efficiently as any male sailor. How can they say that I am not fit to do a sailor’s job?” Giri said, speaking to the Hindustan Times.

This is a valid question and pokes holes in the Indian Armed Forces’ policy of disallowing women from serving in seafaring ships, infantry, artillery or armoured corps. This concept of stereotyping gender roles is obsolete in 2017. Women cadets have been part of the United States Army, for example, since 1980. India has made some progress on this count. Earlier in June of this year, Indian Army chief general Bipin Rawat said that women would be allowed in combat roles sometime in the future. Yet, as the Giri case showed, there is a long way to go.

As complicated as the issue of women rights is, securing the claims of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders is even more so, given that they have been marginalised in Indian culture. India is not unique in facing this issue. In August, the Unites States restored the military ban on transgender people – against which a legal challenge has been launched.

India has, in fact, had some limited success in securing transgender rights. In the National Legal Services Authority judgment, the Supreme Court of India formally recognised a “third gender” category for transgender people. Yet, this fight for gender rights is often a case of one step forward, two steps back. In 2013, the Supreme Court had also outlawed homosexuality. In this see-saw, the publicly visible dismissal of Giri will come as a significant blow to transgender rights in India given that the Armed Forces carry significant moral weight amongst the Indian public.

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