In a symbolic step towards social progress, the Transgender Bill is set to be presented in the winter session of Parliament. While many people are hailing it to be an iconic move towards inclusion of the oppressed transgender community in India, it faces strong opposition from the community it seeks to uplift the transgender people.
But, first we have to know about the bill itself.
The Transgender Bill 2016: Key Facts
The Transgender Bill was introduced in 2016 as an attempt to uplift the transgender community in India, which had been ostracized for centuries. The bill seeks to enforce some key reforms, some of which are:
- Any harassment of transgender person would be dealt with penalty and imprisonment of up to 2 years. It includes forcing a person to leave their home/city/village, undressing them or doing anything that violates their dignity, or forcing them to do jobs that violate their dignity (like begging).
- Causing any mental or physical harm to a transgender person will be a criminal offence.
- Every transgender person (who is not SC or ST by birth) will be given OBC status, along with all the benefits that come with it.
- Transgender people have the right to self-determination of their gender. They can refer to themselves as a man, woman or transgender. The previous category of “other gender” will not be used for them anymore.
- Various steps to ensure the dignity, rights, and liberty are given to transgender people, which are provided by the Constitution of India. Any discrimination that violates these rights and liberties would be treated as criminal offences.
Facing the backlash
So, the bill looks great, doesn’t it? But it was opposed vehemently by the transgender community even last year, when it was first introduced, and now, when it is about to be presented in the parliament. Considered a “draconian bill” by the community, here are some of the objections raised:
- The bill fails to do one very basic thing: define a transgender person. The official definition that the bill proposes is “A transgender person is anyone who is not wholly male or wholly female, part male and part female, or neither male nor female”. This simplistic definition implies clearly that the people who drafted the bill had no idea that being a transgender has little to do with physical organs. In fact, it appears that the bill is trying to focus on people who are intersex and equalizing it with the entire transgender community.
- The bill, in a fit of irony, violates the same dignity that it claims to grant. There is a clause for setting up Screening Committee in every district to identify transgender people and issue them gender certificates. However, the “screening” would involve getting undressed before strangers, which is a clear violation of dignity. It also discards the clause for “self-determination of gender”, because an expert committee would decide if a person is transgender or not.
- The bill criminalizes occupations like begging. However, most transgender people are forced to beg. So effectively, the bill is trying to criminalize the victims.
The thoughts of the community
In an exclusive interview with The Voice Raiser, Rudrani Chettri (noted transgender rights activist and founder of the first transgender modeling agency in India) talked about what is wrong with the bill and the current scenario of transgenders in India. Here is what she had to say:
- The bill gives a very simplistic definition of who a transgender is. Every other folly of the bill spawns from this ignorance.
- Government has criminalized begging and other jobs that are usually done by transgender people, which is right to an extent. It is understandable that begging is an offence. However, there are no alternatives for the transgender community and they still struggle to find normal jobs.
- No other community had to undergo the kind of screening that the bill has proposed for transgender people. Even in that, the bill clearly implies that the committee would be focusing only on the physical parameters to identify transgenders.
- The bill clearly suffers from the lack of understanding of transgender issues. Only one representative from the transgender community was included in the drafting committee, whose almost every suggestion was reportedly discarded.
- The idea of screening committees goes against the NALSA judgment of 2014, which gives every transgender person the right to determining their own gender.
On a concluding note, she said that if only one thing was allowed to be changed in the bill, it should be the definition of transgender people. The community is not looking for any perks like reservation or concessions. Their entire fight was about self-determinism of their gender and getting recognized for who they are.
It was a serious disappointment for the transgender community, who had waited decades for a bill like this. Wide protests in the past 10 days have made some people in the top ranks pay heed to their requests and grievances. However, it remains to be seen if the lawmakers are vigilant enough to listen to the people before it is too late.