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Indian eunuchs given separate IDs

13 November 09 11:05 GMT

India's Election Commission has given eunuchs an independent identity by letting them choose their gender as "other" on ballot forms.

The commission said it had received representation from various individuals and interest groups on the subject.

So far, eunuchs were forced to put down their gender as either male or female.

There are about 500,000 eunuchs in India. Known as hijras, they comprise the hermaphrodite, transvestite and transsexual communities.

Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers.

The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says the election commission's recognition of eunuchs as an independent group is a first step towards an official recognition of the community which has so far remained on the margins of society.

'Readily agreed'

"The commission has duly considered the request and has decided to allow eunuchs and transsexuals to indicate their sex as 'Other' where they do not want to be described as male or female," the Election Commission said in a press release.

"Necessary instructions have been issued to all electoral registration officers through the chief electoral officers of all states and union territories (areas directly administered by the central government in Delhi) to give effect to the above decision of the commission."

The commission said it had received several representations from individuals and groups to include eunuchs in the electoral rolls with a separate identity.

"When the representations came, we readily agreed," Times of India newspaper quoted Election Commissioner SY Qureishi as saying.

"Why should a section of the population be left out? The decision will help in mainstreaming a section of the population," he said.

Most eunuchs earn a living by collecting cash gifts from people during marriages and child births.

But in recent times, with the decline in their traditional roles, many have been forced to work as commercial sex workers.

However some have contested elections and entered the public arena.

But correspondents say these success stories are rare.

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