India's top court on April 15 issued a landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents.
Also, the Supreme Court directed the federal and state governments to include transgender people in all welfare programs for the poor, including education, health care and jobs to help them overcome social and economic challenges.
The decision was praised as giving relief to the estimated 3 million Indians who are transgender.
The court noted that it was the right of every human being to choose their gender while granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
"All documents will now have a third category marked 'transgender. This verdict has come as a great relief for all of us. Today I am proud to be an Indian,'' said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist who, along with a legal agency, had petitioned the court.
"The spirit of the (Indian) Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender," the court said in its order.
The court also ordered the government to put in place public awareness campaigns to lessen the social stigma against transgender people.
Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan told the court that the "recognition of transgender (people) as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue."
"Transgenders are citizens of this country and are entitled to education and all other rights," he said.
The court ruled that transgender people would have the same right to adopt children as other Indians.
The court said any person who underwent surgery would be entitled to be legally recognized as belonging to the gender of their choice.
The apex court also ordered state governments to construct separate toilets for transgender people and create health departments to take care of medical matters.
Recently, India's Election Commission for the first time allowed a third gender choice "other" on voter registration forms. The change was made in time for the national elections being held in phases through May 12.
Some 28,000 voters registered in that category.