In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court today recognised a third gender of persons who are neither male nor female, and directed the central and state governments to provide them all normal facilities, including voter IDs, driving licences, and quotas too.
A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and A K Sikri further told the government to take steps to bring this section of citizens into the mainstream by providing equal healthcare, education and employment.
The apex court expressed concern over transgender persons being harassed and discriminated against, and passed a number of directions for their social welfare.
"Recognition of transgender as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," the court said, asking the centre to treat them as "socially and economically backward" to enable them to get reservations in jobs and education.
"Transgenders are also citizens of India. It is the right of every human being to choose their gender. The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizens to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender," the court said.
The court was finally deciding on a case was filed in 2012 by a group of petitioners including prominent eunuch activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi seeking equal rights for the transgender population.
The court expressed concern at the discrimination and said the centre and states must work to raise awareness and end any perceived stigma. This ruling comes four months after the same court reinstated a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in a widely criticised decision.
The Election Commission had last year issued voter cards for the first time.