Non Binary genders need more visibility in India’s Census 2021

Synopsis: Separating sex and gender in the country’s biggest socio-economic survey is necessary.


Census data is important as it acts as a base for many other surveys in the country.  This is because the census data is a better enumeration of categories of gender. But still, the Census is far from perfect.

About the Census 2011

It was the first census to incorporate the number of ‘trans’ population of the country. The survey provides sex-related data in a binary male / female format. It tagged the rest as ‘other’ and assumed them to be ‘trans’. Those with transgender, intersex and other non-binary identities are excluded from the representation.

What were the findings of this report?                                                      

The report estimated that 4.8 million Indians were identified as transgender.

Who is considered a transgender and non-binary person?

Transgender: It is an umbrella term that includes transmen and transwomen. It refers to someone who does not identify with their sex assigned at birth.

Non-Binary: It is a diverse term of expression. For example, it may refer to transgender, intersex people, demi gender, mulitigender and others.

What are the problems associated with transgenders/Non-Binary people?

Access to toilets: They face problems in accessing public spaces like toilets according to their choice as the existing infrastructures mostly recognise ‘male’ and ‘female’.

In 2017, the Centre issued guidelines under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), making it mandatory for transgender people to be allowed into public toilets designated for both men and women, depending on their choice. But still, access has been denied to them or they are often bullied.

Inadequate amount of data: We only have data on “others”. There is a need to have data on every subgroup for providing solutions.

Sex is biologically determined, but gender is a social construct. Data collection has been sex-focused and not gender-focused.

According to a private report India for the Big Data for Development Network, Gender-disaggregated data does not reflect the reality of all gender minorities. So, the report mentioned that these types of data cannot be used to make development decisions, especially for the inclusion of transgender and intersex persons, who are often misrepresented or absent in this data.

Scarcity of information: We do not have proper information on how many intersex people live with their families, the percentage of Trans people who are homeless, their education and employment structures, types of housing they live in, migration rates and others.

What will be the solution to these problems?

To follow a non-binary approach: Government should clearly segregate data between gender and sexualities. First, the respective options for gender could be man, woman, transman, transwoman, non-binary or other. This will give much more clear information as compared to before.

Redress the existing used terminologies: Male and female (which stands for sex) also need to be replaced with terminologies like man, woman (which stands for gender).

Awareness: It was found out that during the 2011 Census, much of the population was not even aware of this third category in options to gender.

E.g. Delhi, alone had 30,000 hijras (transwomen) in 2005, according to the All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha in 2005. This contradicts the 2011 Census data which mentioned that Delhi has 4,213 Trans people.

Add categories: Census should also include a ‘doesn’t want to disclose’ category for those who don’t want to associate with any gender trait or doesn’t want to divulge gender information.

Gender is not a binary construct, like human emotions it has many shades. So, our census or data collection should reflect this reality.

Source: This post is based on the article “Non-binary genders need more visibility in India’s Census 2021 ‘published in the Down to Earth on 7th September 2021.

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