India has an iffy record on gay and lesbian rights.
In part because of its status as a former British colony, Indian law prohibits homosexuality and punishes homosexual acts. There was hope that the law might be overturned back in 2009 when a court found it unconstitutional, but four years later, India’s Supreme Court said, “Nope, still illegal.” (For more on that, here’s a great overview and opinion piece.)
On the other hand, India has long acknowledged trans people, particularly trans women known as hijras, and their rights have been upheld in court. Acknowledgment, however, is not the same as acceptance: as a rule, hijras aren’t treated well by mainstream society, and they’re often reduced to begging, prostitution, or menial jobs.
That could be about to change with the launch of a new radio cab service in Mumbai, which aims to employ LGBT people, particularly hijras:
India’s first radio taxi service for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, Wings Rainbow, was flagged off on Wednesday. The initiative by Wings Travels and Humsafar Trust will have taxis chauffeured by LGBT community members, and is expected to start functioning in 2017. On Wednesday, five volunteers from The Humsafar Trust, an LGBT rights organisation, signed up to drive radio cabs.
Under the pilot programme, five members of the gay and transgender community will apply for a learner’s licence, and complete their training in getting the All India Driver’s Licence.
During the nine to 12 months it takes to get the permanent driving licences, they will also undergo customer etiquette training.
“We want them to be eventual entrepreneurs and own these vehicles,” said Arun Kharat, founder-director of Wings Travels and Management (India).
“We want to ensure that the LGBT community in India enjoys the same rights and livelihood opportunities in India as their counterparts in the West.”
The timing of the Wings Rainbow launch isn’t great, of course, given the unstoppable force known as Uber, but every bit helps.