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India: First Eunuch Mayor Ordered to Step Down - 2002-08-30

In India, a city court has ordered the country's first eunuch mayor to step down, because the post was reserved for a woman. Kamla Jaan has vowed to fight the verdict in a higher court and is urging the government to decide how eunuchs should contest elections.

Kamla Jaan was elected nearly three years ago as mayor of Katni town in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Kamla Jaan was voted into office at a time when several eunuch candidates decided to run for public office - encouraged by disillusioned citizens, who perceive politicians as corrupt and who felt that eunuchs would be more honest because they have no family ties.

But a city court has ruled that Kamla Jaan cannot continue in office, because of being classified as a male in various identity papers. The ruling came after a group of petitioners challenged Kamla Jaan's election. The mayor's post in Katni is set aside for a woman under a quota system.

Kamla Jaan plans to appeal the judge's decision in a higher court and is asking the government to find a way out of the dilemma that eunuchs face. "How should eunuchs contest elections? The government must decide, and give us some status," said Kamla Jaan. "If we run as women, our political rivals say we are men, and if we contest as men, then they say we are women. This is very unfair."

Eunuchs are men, who are either born without developed sexual organs, or who choose to dress and live as women. Hundreds of years ago, they ran the courts of the Mogul emperors.

Today, they are social outcasts, a closely-knit community that is both feared and ridiculed.

Many people in Katni town say Kamla Jaan did a good job as mayor, asking state authorities for more money for the city's development and improving infrastructure, such as roads and drains.

Katni's former mayor, Sandeep Jaiswal, says Kamla Jaan was accepted by the people, and performed the mayor's job as any other candidate would have - man or woman. "The people had chosen her as mayor," he said. "That gave her status and position. She was the chief guest at several functions. She did her work and no one really paid attention any longer to the fact that she was a eunuch."

Eunuchs have entered Indian politics in a very small way in recent years, mostly in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. But encouraged by their success, they are now working to form a national political party. Observers say the handful of eunuchs who now hold public office appear to be taking a lead in securing a more respectable place in society for their community.