A missed opportunity | HT editorial
Since November 21, members of Parliament in the Upper House, across the political spectrum, have debated on matters pertaining to gender identity, gender expression and sexuality in an unprecedented manner. Some who took part in the debate — close to 30 raised questions for the minister of social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot to answer — understood the intricacies of these human rights issues, and were able to critique the expansive Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, which was passed on Tuesday.
In the five years since the Supreme Court (SC) delivered its National Legal Services Authority versus Union of India judgment, which recognised the legal identity of transgender persons, awareness among lawmakers about the varied communities that fall under the trans umbrella, has grown. The credit for this must go to activist groups and members of the community who have worked with multiple levels of the government, not only seeking equal opportunity as mandated by the SC and dignity as mandated by the Constitution, but also educating them about prejudices and blind spots. Given these efforts, and the long journey that parliamentarians have undertaken, beginning with a sensitive private member’s bill moved by the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham’s Tiruchi Siva in 2014 to the exhaustive report submitted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee that suggested vital changes to the bill introduced by the government in 2016, the new bill ought to have been more attuned to the realities of the lives of trans, intersex, hijra and gender non-conforming persons.
To take just one example: the bill stipulates that parents cannot force children to leave their homes on account of their gender identity. However, instead of taking such families to task, the bill penalises those who “take” them, in other words, transpeople’s chosen family units. This also denies the reality that hijra, jogappa, aravani and other such communities have genealogies dating back to pre-colonial times. Chosen families are spaces that must be recognised, upheld and strengthened. Indeed, the precariousness of trans lives comes from their vulnerability at the hands of the State machinery—the near absence of free and dignified access to public amenities like education or health, employment or housing. Shortly before the bill was put to vote on Tuesday, Mr Gehlot assured the members that while framing the rules, his ministry would try to incorporate their suggestions. One hopes the minister will heed the voices of the community, and not lose this great opportunity to correct the historic injustice meted out to them.