The transgender bill must focus on equity and dignity
The bill, soon to be tabled, is disappointing in its outlook that reduces us to individuals only in need of rehabilitation
Finding one’s self, valuing it and celebrating it— this is vital in a world filled with prejudice and expectations to conform. Nearly 16 years ago, I found my true self and that was when I truly came into my own, and came out to a world that had often told me — and other transgender and gender nonconforming persons like me — that I could never be myself. Along with the fear and anxiety was a sense of great joy and resilience. I felt like a fighter ready to face chauvinism and inequality.
Every day, transwomen are thrown out of their homes by their birth families, and forced to live on the streets where they are prone to sexual violence and torture. Many find support in families of choice like in Hijra gharanas. Most of my sisters cannot complete their education, and must beg for their livelihood or do sex work. For those who wish to undergo transition, the cost is prohibitive. Through all this, we remain the butt of jokes at best and victims of abuse, bullying and violence at worst.
It is in this context that the government plans to re-introduce the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, and it is disappointing in its outlook that reduces us to individuals in need of rehabilitation.
We cannot talk about rehabilitation without speaking about equal opportunity whether of access to educational institutions or to employment. Even though section 3 of the bill that was cleared by the Lok Sabha in December 2018 (it is this version that is expected to be tabled in the Parliament), prohibits discrimination on nine grounds, including employment, housing and education, among others, the bill is woefully silent on how the State intends to enforce this. It is also silent about what the State will do, if and when such discrimination does occur.
In a similar vein, the bill talks about setting up a National Council for Transgender — it will comprise a host of government and community representatives — that is meant to advise the Centre on formulation of policies with respect to transgender persons, monitor and evaluate the impact of said policies, coordinate the activities of all departments of the government dealing with these matters and redress the grievances of transgender persons. Will such policies include reservation? What if certain policies are not implemented properly? How exactly is the council meant to redress a grievance? This bill is silent on all of the above.
When a community has been wronged historically, equal opportunity and non-discrimination are only possible through reservation. The bill is woefully silent on affirmative action.
The bill defines “family” as “a group of people related by blood or marriage or by adoption made in accordance with law”. Thus, it does not recognise the lived reality of transpersons, where often, after being ostracised by their birth family, they are taken in by other community members, who shield and protect them. These are families of choice, equally deserving of recognition. Yes, trans-identified children should not be thrown out of their homes, and the bill asserts this. But, the reality on ground is that transpersons are often recipients of immense violence at the hands of their birth families — and homelessness is part of this.
For those transpersons who wish to transition, the process is a long one — from hormone therapy to feminisation to gender reassignment surgery. During this time, we should be identified by the gender that we desire. The bill puts the onus on district screening committees to tell a trans individual if they’re good enough to be who they truly are — this would gravely affect the mental health and sense of self of transpersons. Such screening committees will comprise the district magistrate, medical officers, psychologists or psychiatrists, and even transpersons, and will provide gender identity certificates to transpersons. This goes against the very principle of self-identification that a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in 2014, titled the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) versus Union of India, guaranteed.
When Sushmita Dev, the president of All India Mahila Congress and I met the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, it was gratifying to hear her assurance that the Congress will do everything to uphold the dignity of my community and give them their rights as per the Nalsa judgment.
Apsara Reddy is national general secretary, All India Mahila Congress, and the first transwoman to be given a political appointment in the Congress
The views expressed are personal