India: Motherhood Has No Gender

Love can never be categorised or legislated. Last April, a friend sent me a link to a video advertisement on YouTube, warning me to be "ready with your handkerchief". While I watched, the images on the ad hit me like a bus. They brought forth a flood of emotions and memories from my years growing up as a transgender woman in Mumbai, India. If you haven't yet seen this video, you should—it's an emotional and overpowering 3 minutes!

The "Touch of Care" video is part of a recent advertisement campaign for Vicks lozenges. The images challenge the concepts and norms of a traditional family in India. It shows a girl going to boarding school speaking about her strong mother who adopted her despite all odds, and who wishes to see her grow up to become a doctor. As the ad ends, we see the mother is Gauri Sawant, a hijra activist and transgender woman. Since its release, the video has gone viral, attracting more than 9.5 million views on YouTube.

The story reminds us that people do not need to be legally or genetically connected to become a family. Gauri and others like her have broken the traditional concepts of family. In a recent interview, Gauri stated, "Through this film, society will understand that motherhood has no gender. All you need is care. The only thing that matters is people's perceptions—the day that changes, everything will."

Since our friendship began in 2000, Gauri and I have worked together to promote the rights, health and well-being of hijra and transgender people in India. It was in that year, we began organising hijras and transgender women to participate in the first public protest against the government's crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil society groups in north India using draconian provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Later in 2012, we jointly filed a petition letter with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in a social justice litigation to the Supreme Court of India on rights and equality of transgender persons.

Against all expectations we were successful! On 14 April 2014, the honorable court in their judgment recognised that fundamental rights are extended to the third gender in the same manner as they are extended to males and females. Furthermore, non-recognition of the third gender in both criminal and civil statutes, such as those relating to "family, including marriageadoption, divorce, etc. is discriminatory."

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