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Project TRANScend: CSR for Empowerment of Transgender Community

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The TRANScend project addresses gender-based violence and enhances the social inclusion and acceptance of transpersons in India by focusing on actions like sensitizing companies and educational institutions towards transgender issues and capacity building of transgender community organizations in advocacy and resource mobilization.
To this account, Ms Chetna Kaura, Corporate Social Responsibility Lead, Publicis Sapient, in conversation with The CSR Journal throws light on the project.

Transgender persons suffer from a lot of exploitation in all areas of their lives. How and why did you choose to give voice to their misery?

The areas of need in India are many. With our CSR projects, we wanted to support causes and communities that are otherwise underserved. We referred to the data shared by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs on their National CSR Portal and identified the areas that we could focus on.
We were very mindful that our funds be spent in the most impactful and thoughtful manner, which would not only serve the community but also create a sense of pride amongst us as a team.
The idea to work with the Transgender community came from a team member in 2015. As and when we got more invested into the designing of the project with the help of Humsafar Trust, we got more and more convinced about the cause we chose to support.

Tell us about the project TRANScend. What is its aim and how does it work to make an impact in the lives of Transgender Persons in India?

Humsafar Trust is an expert in addressing the spectrum of problems pertaining to LGBTQI issues. This is why we chose to partner with them for project TRANScend.
In project TRANScend, our main focus is to work on the issues specific to the transgender community, particularly encouraged by the 2014 NALSA Judgement delivered by the Supreme of India. The aim of the project is to address the gaps in the rights and protections available to the community, as identified by the experts at the Humsafar Trust at the ground level.
The overall goal of the project is to promote inclusivity and acceptance of trans-persons, particularly at ground level institutions such as companies or educational institutions as well as bureaucratic offices. This might eventually lead to the creation of an ecosystem where the transgender community can flourish in the way they choose, in order to take maximum advantage of the provisions of the NALSA Judgement. We do this by conducting workshops and interactive sessions for all the stakeholders of society.
With the project, our first intent is to inspire our own team at Publicis Sapient with regards to the Transgender issues and then to bring about the same change and inspiration in the society. We are working to bring socio-economic inclusion of Transgender individuals of India.
Through project TRANScend we have managed to directly impact the lives of 36,000 people including about 1600 trans-persons. Beyond this, the multiplier effect in the community at large has generated a lot of awareness in a positive direction. The most important thing that we have been able to achieve with this is that we have been able to provide a platform to the community that has allowed them to communicate, collaborate and co-create their own path to empowerment.

People in India are often ignorant towards the Transgender persons – their lifestyle, their issues or their language. How important it is in your opinion to change this?

I think it is very important to address this. We may not understand them or their life, but we still need to respect the differences. Most of the times people are hurtful or disrespectful towards the LGBTQ community because of their own ignorance. This ignorance is not endemic to India. In fact, it is rampant across the world.
India is often considered to be a rather conservative country. But in this matter, we have many positives in place which so-called developed countries such as the USA are also lagging behind. For example, in our IRCTC railway booking portal, in the gender section, there is an option to select Transgender. It is unfair to judge people on the basis of what they do not know. Rather there should be an appreciation for the fact that people are willing to make an effort to learn and have a conversation about these issues.
While there are a lot of intricacies around gender identity and sexuality, it is important to create a level of awareness among people to the extent that there is respect for all the members of the community. This is a slow process as it calls for a behavioural and cultural change. But it has to start somewhere.
With project TRANScend, we are attempting to create ecosystems which has a basic framework in place for the community. This way they can thrive in an environment where there is a certain level of awareness and understanding. Especially in companies, government agencies, educational institutions, with police, with lawyers and so on.

Media in India is often insensitive about the terms they use for people belonging to the LGBTQ Community. How do you think this could be changed?

The insensitivity comes mainly from ignorance. The media in its inquisitiveness tend to not ask the right questions to the right people which creates an impression that they are insensitive. It is important for us to understand that there are different kinds of personalities in every community. There are introverts as well as extroverts. There are some people who prefer to go by a certain gender identity at certain times and not so much at others. The best way to go about this is, to ask an individual as to how they would like to be addressed. Or what pronoun do they want to associate themselves with. In addition to this, if an individual is not comfortable in explaining their gender identity or sexual preferences, their denial to answer should also be respected.

We have seen mixed opinions towards The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Please share your thoughts on that.

I think that it is a positive thing that there is a law in place for the benefit of the community. However, there are certain gaps that the people of the community have pointed out, which need to be filled. However, I am not a member of the community, nor do I profess to be an expert at the Transgender Community Issues to comment on the law that affects them.

What is the role of CSR in your opinion to bring about social justice in the country?

The role of each citizen, at an individual level, is the most critical to bring about social justice in the country. Laws, rules, regulations, codes of conduct are effective only in a limited manner unless the mindset of each person is changed to that of understanding of and respect for human rights. Other stakeholders including civil society, government, multilateral organisations, academia, media and business each play a role in enabling this to happen. To that end, CSR encourages businesses to look at the triple bottom line and ensure a socially just work environment and display responsible business conduct. In the context of the Indian CSR law, companies can play a major role as pioneer and influencer by investing CSR funds in underserved communities and less conservative projects which could help highlight an ongoing social injustice.

What is your view on mandatory CSR in India?

The landmark CSR provision of the Companies Act, 2013 has given an opportunity for businesses to make a difference beyond their own people and for the society at large. Whilst there is scope for enhancing and expanding the provision, addressed in good measure by the High-Level Committee on CSR, it has nevertheless been the catalyst for thousands of Indian registered companies beginning their CSR journeys, ensuring CSR is now discussed at the board level and accountability for CSR activities resting with the top executive of a company.