(Photo: Reuters/Arko Datta/Files)
The roughly two million or so transgendered people in India will be recognized as a third gender following a ruling by India's Supreme Court.
"It is the right of every human being to choose their gender," the Supreme Court said, according to BBC News. The ruling also mandates the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities.
Estimates state that there are close to two million transgender people in India, who are often discriminated against and ostracized by the rest of society, forced to live in poverty.
"Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," argued Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan. "The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender."
The Associated Press reported that people will be able to identify as a third gender if they have "acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth." They will also be allowed to adopt children, the same as other citizens.
Anita Shenoy, lawyer for the petitioner National Legal Services Authority, said that the group is "thrilled" with the ruling.
"The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender. The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets," Shenoy said.
Other countries in the region that have also recognized a third gender in recent years include Bangladesh and Nepal.
In November 2013, Germany became the first European nation to allow newborn babies displaying characteristics of both males and females to be identified as an "intermediate sex," which was also an effort aimed and improving "acceptance and equality."
India, a largely Hindu nation, reinstated a ban on gay sexual relations in December, going back to a penal code from 1860 that prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal." Violators have been threatened with up to 10 years in jail.
Baba Ramdev, described as a "controversial but popular" Hindu spiritual leader, argued then that the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the ban had honored the wishes of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians who believe in morality.
"Today they are talking about men having sexual relationships with men, women with women; tomorrow they will talk of sexual relationships with animals," Ramdev said.