In a first, Maharashtra’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) has appointed a transgender person as one of the 12 election ambassadors in charge of creating awareness among voters. Gauri Sawant is the director of Sakshi Char Chowghi Trust that promotes safe sex and gives counselling to transgender people and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Sawant was one of the petitioners in the 2014 National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) case when the Supreme Court recognised transgender as the third gender. She was also the first person to file a petition for adoption rights of transgender persons. According to Sawant, she is the only transgender poll ambassador in the country.
One of the duties of Sawant as an election ambassador is to increase the voter turnout by encouraging more women to vote. She told TOI,
“I will generate awareness among sex workers and housewives about the importance of voting. Sex workers and their welfare do not feature on the agenda of any of the parties, so even they do not bother to vote. But this has to change.”
Gauri Sawant also featured in a 2017 Vicks ad directed by Neeraj Ghayawan that was based on her life. In 2001, she adopted and decided to raise a girl whose grandmother had decided to sell her to a dealer in Sonagachi, Kolkata. The girl was left orphaned after her mother, who was a sex worker, died of AIDS.
“The voting day is a holiday and their husbands are at home, so they are busy cooking for them and do not go out to vote. We will reach out to them and explain why it is important to vote and that many countries still do not give women the right to do so. If we cannot go on the border and fight, we should at least go to the election booth and vote.”
Another duty of Sawant is to encourage more transpersons to register to vote. Data provided by the Election Commission show that the number of non-binary voters enrolled in the “Other” category only increased by 15,306 in the last five years and now stands at over 38,000. The 2011 census puts the population of transgenders at around 4.9 lakh. Such a low enrolment ratio is blamed on furnishing a number of documents required to prove one’s identity, which many in the transgender community do not possess.