Voyaging Intersectionality

Negotiating Horizontality and Trans Lives 

Illustration by Laura Andrade

September 5, 2022
Written by: Ayush Biswas  Edited by: Ganga N.

To even build a comprehensive picture of intersectionality, we first need to understand how it functions within the domain of power and powerlessness, how it works within the day-to-day politics of everyday life and from there crystallizes in often unfruitful but sometimes productive policy formulation

Going back to the year 1955, we see the First Backward Classes Commission identifying 2399 Backward Classes, of which 837 were classified as Most Backward. The 1979 Mandal Commission, went a step further and identified 3,743 castes as backward, which constitute 52 per cent of the population – this apart from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Sub-categorization within the OBC category has been a contested space both historically and socio-politically. We can go back as far as the Second Backward Classes Commission and revisit L.R. Naik’s arguments, laying down the groundwork to argue against the homogenizing effect of a monolithic category. Let’s try to problematize this homogenizing effect by bringing into light a recent policy proposition. This will not only help us deconstruct the effect but also make way for further conversation on addressing it with an alternative solution.

Intersecting Worlds, Waning Peripheries  

There has been much conversation regarding the controversial attempt by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to subcategorize Transgender individuals under the OBC category. This system of vertical reservation, if passed and implemented, would necessitate all trans persons to be categorized under the OBC list. This move fails to acknowledge that one’s gender identity cannot do away with one’s caste identity; a trans individual who belongs to the Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe or even the ‘Unreserved category’ would now have to choose between their gender and their caste identity.  

And how so 

Categorizing Trans-identity as a caste identity (which the move is establishing), erases the reality that these are two different vectors of identification, which do often overlap but are never one and the same  

Along with this, the move also fails to document the magnified marginalization of the intersex and trans individuals owing to their caste identity, an identity which again cannot be capsulated within the OBC category.    

For example, a trans individual who belongs to the Bhogta caste in Bengal experiences multitudes of powerlessness owing to their intersecting caste and gender identity. They face powerlessness not only in the upper-caste spaces, but also within their own community through passive and active exclusion, owing to their trans identity.  

Illustration by: Nicolae Negura

Illustrated by: Ipsita Divedi

Is there a silver lining?

Trans and intersex individuals who do belong to the OBC category gain nothing from this move given the fact that they are being provided the reservation based on their caste identity and not their gender identity.  This inability, of the policy, to address these cleavages has made way for more dialogue on the possibility of providing and extending horizontal reservations to trans and intersex individuals.   So what is horizontal reservation?  

It is a system by which there are certain reservations made within Vertical categories ( SC/ST/OBC), themselves.  This system not only accounts for intersectional nature of discrimination and oppression in India but also paves way for truly guaranteeing the rights of transgender persons as per the Constitution of India.  

Horizontal reservation has been part of the system for some time, within each vertical category. (For veterans, for cis-women, the differently abled)  

Let’s imagine horizontal reservation for transgendered individuals.  

For example, if trans-individuals have a 50% horizontal quota, then half of the selected candidates will have to necessarily be transgendered in each vertical quota category i.e., half of all selected Scheduled Caste candidates will be trans-individuals, half of the Unreserved or General category will be reserved for trans-individuals, and so on.  

The horizontal reservation system has been a part and parcel of everyday political life of the Indian Democracy, and not a system just out of the books. By extending the framework to trans and intersex individuals, we ensure active spaces of visibility and socio-economic agency, access to political representation,  better economic, education and employment opportunities.  

In the month of July, we published the Indian Wheel of Power and Powerlessness. The function of the wheel is to act as a pivotal axis in documenting a clearer picture of Intersectionality in India. 

Tools such as The Wheel of Power and Powerlessness are significant in providing complementary subtext to this system because it materializes and recognizes the intersectional nature of oppression and repression and opens up a dialogue on the cross-sectional nature of how one experiences marginalization.