‘We Are Equal Citizens Of This Country’ Transgender Community Rejects Bill
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 and the community is not happy about it at all. The Trans Bill focuses on providing a mechanism for social, economic and educational empowerment of transgenders and was moved for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha by Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot on November 20.
November 20 is also ironically celebrated as the Transgender Day of Remembrance when the allies of the community mourn the deaths of trans persons who have lost their lives to transphobia.
With the Lok Sabha passing the bill in August and now Rajya Sabha passing the bill too, it is clear now that the bill will become a law. The bill recognises any person, who relates to a different gender than the gender at birth, as a transperson. But the fact that any person will only be considered a trans person after they go through a district magistrate and district screening committee to get certified as a trans person. It violates the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgment by framing a two-step process where transgender identity is first mandatorily granted by a District Magistrate with a requirement for surgery before one can change this to a binary gender marker.
The several wrongs in the Transgender Rights Bill
Talking about the bill, trans rights activist Abheena Aher tells SheThePeople.TV, “It is the most prominent form of injustice that the bill upholds the criteria of a screening committee. The gender affirmation, gender acknowledgement and screening process are totally uncalled for. The other thing is the entire perspective under this bill where they are trying to make the process clinical in the sense that they are making the surgery for gender transformation necessary.”
“Getting approval at district magistrate level and being scrutinised by a medical professional is intrusive and violation of their rights. It will only aggravate the already existing stigma and discrimination a young trans person faces in our system,” says Divya Vaishnava, founder of BUD Foundation and a human rights defender who has been working within the parameters of child rights. Noted trans activist, Gauri Sawant compared the screening committee with a virginity test. “It is like snatching a whole community of their fundamental rights.”
This is one of the many wrongs committed within the Trans Bill against the community as it strips them of their right to be until a screening committee certifies them of being a trans person.
People with several other orientations like inter-sex variations, gender-queer, and a person having such socio-cultural identities as ‘kinnar’, ‘hijra’, ‘aravani’ and ‘jogta’ are also termed as transgender within the bill.
“Getting approval at district magistrate level and being scrutinised by a medical professional is intrusive and violation of their rights. It will only aggravate the already existing stigma and discrimination a young trans person faces in our system,”
According to the trans community, the bill restricts their freedom of movement and residence to familial spaces and rehabilitation homes. “It also discriminates against them by upholding much lighter penalties for sexual assault on transgender persons compared to cisgender persons. The Bill postulates that sexual violence against trans persons will face punishment from six months to two years, in comparison with the seven years of imprisonment for sexual violence against women,” opines Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi who identifies as a queer person.
Trans community demands
Aher adds that there is an absence of a lot of elements of the NALSA judgment like reservation, public campaigns to reduce the stigma and discrimination against the trans community etc. “Further there are no bodies that can actually deliver the services to our young trans individuals who are suppressed in society.”
She goes on to say that the community does not want rehabilitation of any kind, in fact, what it wants is opportunities but the bill does not guarantee them that. “Basically, the community needs opportunities in the skill-building and the other related aspects. We need education, employment opportunities and hands-on protection against the stigma and discrimination that happens with us which will eventually help in mainstreaming our issues. Issues like public toilets, healthcare benefits for the community are not even being talked about in the government and that raises many concerns.”
Government lacks education
However, she does say that the government hasn’t been completely ignorant of the trans community. “They are aware of the wrongdoings that have happened with our community, if they were ignorant then the bill wouldn’t have come to be in the first place. There is a genuine interest in the government to cater to transgender people at some point and do their welfare but the unfortunate part is that they don’t have enough education about the transgender community. They don’t understand the variations of the transgender community that this community stands as an umbrella and not just one or two identities as they consider everybody is inter-sex being and that’s how the entire bill has been passed,” explains Aher.
“There is also a lot of fear in the government that once they pass the bill then the gay men and people of other sexual orientations will take undue advantage of the law,”
“There is also a lot of fear in the government that once they pass the bill then the gay men and people of other sexual orientations will take undue advantage of the law,” she added. Sawant says that just the passing of the bill doesn’t change anything for the community. She adds that the community will fight back.
Community kicks back
Various collectives from the community have released statements discarding the bill. “We are not nameless, faceless, helpless people whom the Govt. needs to “save”; we are equal citizens of this country who deserve to live with dignity. This Bill does not afford us that fundamental right and therefore, we do not and will not accept it,” read a statement by the members of the trans, hijra, and non-binary communities of Labia – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective, Thane Queer Collective and TISS Queer Collective among other groups.
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