They call August 5, 2019, the day Lok Sabha passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, as ‘Gender Justice Murder Day’
Transgenders, often identified as hijras, aravanis, kothis, kinnars or sakhis, have existed in the Indian historical records since the 9th century BCE. They held prominent positions in the society like political advisors to the king and administrators.
Their status started degrading when the British rolled out the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871 which particularly targeted them. The Act was repealed in 1952, but the damage it caused is still visible. Transgenders, for the first time, were identified as the third sex in the 2011 Census.
A trans person’s struggle to survive starts from childhood. Most are abandoned by their families, denied formal education and have restricted entry in jobs. They are forced into begging, sex work and dancing in weddings to earn their living.
Verbal and sexual abuse is frequent. Healthcare is denied in many ways including bias from doctors. We are a transphobic society and that is reflected in the healthcare system too.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on August 5, 2019, was much awaited by the transgender community. However, the transgender community termed the day as ‘Gender Justice Murder Day’.
The vehement opposition comes due to several reasons. The Bill was passed, without any debate, amid chaos due to abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir on the same day.
Activists pointed out that it is inappropriate to include the intersex community in the definition of transgenders, which the bill does, as not all intersex people identify themselves as trans-people. It dilutes their rights.
They find the requirement of the court order to decide where a trans child will live — either with biological family or the community family — as another blatant human right violation. There is no discussion regarding reservations in public jobs, education, etc. Bullying in schools and at the workplace is frequent but there is no discussion about this issue as well.
The Bill says that there will be just one committee at the national level including maximum five representatives from the transgender community. This is unfair representation for the transgender population.
The penalty for rape is just six months to two years when it is life imprisonment for raping a woman. Even endangering their life is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison. The community has raised the concern that the crimes against them are considered and penalised as “petty” crimes.
The earlier version of the Bill was also subjected to criticism from the transgender community. It was passed in Lok Sabha with 27 amendments on December 17, 2018. The Bill later lapsed in the Upper House.
This time, the government said most amendments suggested have been accepted. However, activists said there are only two major positive inclusions — removal of criminalisation of begging and removal of medical screening committees.
They said even these are cosmetic changes and are still present in norms like criminalisation of bonded labour and requirement of medical check-up if a trans person post-surgery/therapy wants to be identified as a man or woman. Otherwise, they are required to get their identification cards from the district magistrate where they can only identify themselves as transgenders.
The only data used is eight years old (Census 2011) which is not inclusive of several parameters like their education, income, etc. So how does this Bill intend to empower them without knowing their present condition?
Overall, the Bill lacks the how part. Their right to residence, the prohibition of discrimination, inclusive education, livelihood, protection at the workplace, and healthcare are discussed but how it will happen is missing.
The transgender community thinks they are being treated under the Bill as sub-humans. If the Bill is passed by the Rajya Sabha without making suggested revisions like excluding intersex people from the definition, doing away with medical screening, taking the punishment at par with other genders for crimes against transgenders, etc., it will not lead to the intended social, economic and educational empowerment. Instead, it will result in anguish against the government among the community members.
Transgenders have fought a long battle for centuries. Finally, when they are being heard by the government, it should lead to their holistic development. And now is the only time to do so.
Views expressed are the authors' own and don't necessarily reflect that of Down To Earth
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