The transgender community in India has rejected "The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill," which was approved Monday by the country's Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. The bill, approved with 27 amendments, grossly overlooks what the Indian transgender community proposed, activists and organizations argue.
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The bill, which seeks to define transgenders and prohibit discrimination against them, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016.
Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot defended the bill, saying “a long discussion has taken place on this issue” and stressing it "included several of their suggestions.”
However, many lawmakers criticized the bill over lack of clarity and definitions. Legislator Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar insisted the bill needs further debate. “First, we have to define what transgender means," she said.
“We need to recognize transgenders’ identities as it goes beyond male and female. The bill also fails to define discrimination against transgenders,” legislator Shashi Tharoor contends.
The transgender community is also angered by the bill. On Tuesday, they released a statement criticizing the bill.
“The transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming community from across the country and allies have together opposed this amended Bill, which apart from an improved definition of the term transgender, continues to be unacceptable and needs to be redrafted or withdrawn,” the statement reads.
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The bill "should be more appropriately retitled the Transgender Persons (Violation of Rights) Bill, since it violates more rights than it protects ... the version of the Bill passed upholds criminalization of trans people for organized begging while denying any opportunities in education, employment, healthcare, etc.,” the statement explains.
The community further argues that the amended bill violates the “right to self-identity and constitutional rights” and laments the fact that it proposes lighter punishment for discrimination and assault on transgender people compared to cisgender people.
The bill also establishes that trans people must stay with their parents or approach a court regarding decision on where live, which clearly violates their fundamental right to freedom of movement.
“The amended Bill has created a two-tier system within the transgender community, wherein persons who have not had sex reassignment surgery (SRS) can only identify as transgender and not as male or female, and the identification as transgender depends on scrutiny and certification by a District Screening Committee; those seeking to identify as male or female need to have had SRS. This is completely contrary to the NALSA verdict,” said the press release.
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In the landmark National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India (NALSA, 2014), the Supreme Court of India upheld trans people’s right to self-identify as the third gender or as male or female. It also ruled that forcing people to have sex reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, or other procedures to legally declare gender was illegal and immoral.
The verdict also ordered the state to implement welfare schemes for the community. This has not been fulfilled, according to trans activists.
In 2015, Tiruchi Siva presented the “Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014” as a private member’s bill (a bill introduced by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the executive branch). The bill, drawn up after consulting the trans community, was approved by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. However, it is still pending before the lower house of parliament.
In India, a bill can be introduced in either house, but it has to be approved by both houses before being sent to the President.
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“Tiruchi Siva's bill was largely reflective of the NALSA verdict and had several progressive positions such as reservation rights, employment and education opportunities, right to self self-determination, special courts, a Transgender Rights Commission and more,” the community explained in the press release.
In 2015, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment drafted a Rights of Transgender Persons Bill and asked for public input. The trans community, intersex led groups, as well as LGBTI allies put forward their comments rejecting many problematic aspects of the bill.
However, when it was introduced in the lower house as the "Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill" in 2016, it did not incorporate any of these recommendations, except for a new the definition of transgender.
The trans community’s demand is to scrap the bill passed Monday and instead approve the 2015 private bill, which they calim is progressive.
“We ask the GOI’s (Government of India) bills be completely overhauled, made compliant with the NALSA verdict, and incorporate the community feedback given,” the statement concluded.