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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Here’s Why Tamil Nadu’s Ban On Sex-Change Surgery For Intersex Infants Is Just The Beginning Of A Long Battle

  • IWB Post
  •  June 6, 2019

The Madras High Court declared a ban on sex-change surgery for intersex infants on April 22, 2019, a rather historical verdict considering the fact that it is the first time anywhere in Asia that a judicial body has imposed a legal ban on this procedure, which is downright inhuman.

Despite its magnitude, the verdict somehow wasn’t covered or talked about in the media or anywhere else. An easy and rather obvious explanation of it can, of course, be found in the fact that the issue transcends the gender binary and while we are finally beginning to consider LGBTQ issues, we tend to stop just there.

Just like public health professional Dr. Pragati Singh said in a recent interaction with IWBthe queer conversation in India, as well as most other parts of the world, tends to stop at “LGBTQ”, owing to our scanty knowledge of the “gender umbrella” as gender rights activist Gopi Shankar calls it.

During an earlier conversation with IWB, ze shared with us the entire concept of gender and how transgender is an “umbrella term” that encompasses a lot of diversity within, along with the outcomes of that diversity.

During the same conversation, ze talked about how it was very common for doctors to perform sex-selective surgeries (not to be confused with sex corrective) on an infant who is born with ambiguous genitalia.

As ze explained, “And if you understand that sex and gender are not the same things, you’d understand why it’s not right for doctors to surgically alter the genitals of an infant in order to fit social norms.”

Come to the present day and you will feel how unyielding activism by Gopi and others like zer is changing the world and making it a better place for everyone, irrespective of their gender.

“When the court said that it was a humbling and enlightening experience for them, I felt humbled as well. The court was acknowledging what we are doing. Day in and day out, we slogged for this issue because we had seen our own friends committing suicide and suffering constantly because of lack of a mechanism or system to survive. We are not MSW students or social workers. It’s not work for me, it’s something that started with me, it is not a passion or dream, it is something that we are and it is something that we need,” ze shared in a recent interaction with IWB.

Ze added, “It all started because we didn’t have spaces for ourselves, so we had to fight for them and ask for what we deserved.”

Speaking on the order, ze says, “I mean legislation has been passed earlier in places like Malta. European Union also adopted a resolution, even European counsel adopted a resolution to protect the rights of intersex individuals. One of my friends, Morgan Carpenter, is working with the Australian government for the same. However, in entire Asia, this is the first time judicial bodies are asking a state to pass a Government Order (GO) in this regard.”

However, a big step as it might be, the ban is just the beginning of a long path that needs to be traversed with no direction whatsoever. All over the world, there are just a handful of places with similar legislation but that’s not the problem. The real problem is that they have been left just there, suspended in mid-air, with no subsequent actions.

None of these countries have any sort of medical protocols to support these orders, thus rendering them practically obsolete. “Though Malta is the first place to pass legislation in 2015, they don’t have any committees to work on it till date. It only exists on paper. Legislations and policies, only when they are practical and when they have a committee to work on them, can be implemented and otherwise are nothing but a piece of paper,” says Gopi.

Thus, the responsibility falls on Gopi’s shoulder to take it forward from here. Ze has already started working on it and has constituted a committee with some of the renowned genetic scientists and child surgeons in the country who are in support of the ban.

But how hard it must be to come up with a list of medical procedures? Apparently, very. Ze explains, “Actually the first thing that we need to understand is that there is no mechanism in place and also there is no protocol in place of how the doctors identify such babies and what they should do immediately after identifying them. So the Indian Medical Association needs to come up with a solution.”

But it doesn’t stop just there, with an intersex infant while there are some procedures which are urgent and integral, there are others which are medically irrelevant and amidst all the misinformation it becomes difficult to ascertain when surgery is required and which is not.

“Biologically you can’t change the sex but what you can do is perform some cosmetic procedures which will hurt them so as to make them fall into binary of sexual identity by reshaping their genitalia,” says Gopi, talking about the medically irrelevant procedures.

But what happens once the surgery has been averted? Gopi says, “What we suggest is that after all the tests and all, the doctor can assign a sex to the child for the sake of the fact that the baby needs to go to school. At the same time, the privacy needs to be protected with the doctor and the parent that the child is intersex.”

“There should be a special intersex clinic where children can go and have counseling every month. So we need to train psychologists and counselors on this particular subject. Also, how much parents are willing to bear for their children matters. It is not about the child because they are too young to have a take on the issue,” ze ends.

However difficult it might sound, ze is hopeful that it is a reality which is not too far away. “Of course, it can be done. The way we reduced female infanticide can be applied in this case too,” says Gopi, hopeful of a change that ze has vowed to bring about.

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