Tamil Nadu Becomes First State to Ban So‑Called Corrective Surgery on Intersex Babies
The Tamil Nadu government, in a recent executive order, banned so-called corrective surgery on intersex infants and children, becoming the first state government in India to do so. Surgery on intersex babies — who are born with a reproductive system or genital anatomy that doesn’t fit into what society calls male or female — to make their genital appearance fit into the binary, is a rampant, unethical practice that has been increasingly denounced by human rights activists, most notedly in India by intersex and genderqueer activist Gopi Shankar Madurai.
The Tamil Nadu order comes on the heels of a Madras High Court recommendation, informed by Madurai’s advocacy, to the government to ban the practice. Turns out, the government was paying attention.
In the order, the Tamil Nadu government acknowledged that “intersex people may face discrimination and stigma in the health system, in many cases being subjected to lack of quality of care, institutional violence and forced interventions throughout their lifetime.” It also realized that so-called “sex normalizing procedures” are “unnecessary, often irreversible,” and that the interventions “may have lifelong consequences for [intersex individuals’] physical and mental health, including irreversible termination of all or some of their reproductive and sexual capacity.”
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The move is especially relevant as we start to know more about intersex individuals: for example, it was only in April 2019 that it became apparent intersex genitals may be more common than previously thought, as reported by a Turkey-based study. It recorded 1.3 in 1,000 births as visibly intersex among study participants, which is nearly double the 1-in-2,000 birth rate typically cited.
It then becomes increasingly imperative intersex individuals are accorded the right to make a decision for themselves, as they grow up, instead of letting their parents or guardians assigning them a sex arbitrarily to fit a gender- and sex-binary early on. As we become more aware of all the different ways in which sex and gender manifest in bodies and behavior, policies that accord freedom of expression to such groups become all the more necessary. The Tamil Nadu order, while a great step, is only the beginning; it needs to be followed by a greater understanding, respect, and consideration for intersex individuals, and their freedom to exist as they are.