The ensuing drama and midnight meetings by politicians aside, the recently-concluded Karnataka Assembly elections brought to the fore a heartening fact: over 5,000 registered transgenders exercised their franchise. This is twice the number of third gender voters from the last election in the state that was conducted in 2013. Transgenders from Bengaluru came strong, with 1,629 voters, voting across 28 assembly constituencies.
In an interview to Times of India, transwoman Lavanya, who is a first-time voter, expressed her happiness in being able to exercise her right to vote, and also wished the party forming the government will do its best to protect her community. She said,
Voting during elections is not a right, but a duty, and I am only carrying out this duty. During the campaigning, many of the contestants approached our community to reach out for votes, and I hope that this leads to change in the future in how we and our concerns are treated.
It is indeed this hope for a better future that drove many transgenders to the voting booths this year. Vidya Dinker, a prominent social activist, told NewsKarnataka that transgenders have been so ostracised that even some activists and social workers who work for their cause tend to treat them with no respect. She added,
This is the sad reality. We know that there are very few job opportunities or opportunities to study open to them so, they are forced to fall back to begging or sex work.
The State government, in 2017, cleared the State Policy for Transgenders, 2017 in a bid to improve and safeguard the community's living and working conditions and its standing in the society, free of exploitation and ridicule.
Many first-time transgender voters felt a great sense of relief and joy at being able to do a mainstream activity that allows them to exercise their choice and have a say in the future of the state. Sanjana, born Ganesh, hails from the Dandeli village of the Karwar district. She was ill-treated by her father for being different. An alcoholic, he would beat the little boy for being effeminate. She was left to fend for herself, by working in bars and restaurants. At the age of 12, she fled to Bengaluru to live life on her own terms. She told NewsKarnataka,
For the first time in my life I have voted from Dakshina Kannada. I have a voter identity card in my real name i.e. Sanjana. I am elated that I could be what I really am. It is a dream come true for me, as I was waiting to vote for a long time. I couldn't register as a female before this.