Centre to reintroduce transgender bill with suggested changes

The revised bill drops a contentious definition of transgender people following a suggestion by a parliamentary panel.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2018 08:51 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill,2016,Transgender community
Members and supporters of LGBT (Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender groups) groupsduring Delhi’s 10th queer Pride march in New Delhi in November 2017. (HT File Photo)

The government is set to reintroduce the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 in the budget session of Parliament, which resumes on March 5, after incorporating some of the suggestions made by a parliamentary committee, including dropping the phrase “neither wholly male or female” from the definition of transgender, officials familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

The Centre is also considering doing away with the need for medical screening committees at the district level, as demanded by transgender persons since the bill was first tabled in August 2016.

“Apart from the suggestions made by the parliamentary panel, the government took cognisance of the suggestions made by various rights groups on altering the definition, and some suggestions such as doing away with the need to have a screening committee at the district level,” said an official, who asked not to be named.

The 2016 bill had proposed that a transgender person may make an application to the district magistrate for issuing a “certificate of identity as a transgender person”. The district magistrate would then refer the application to a district screening committee constituted by the appropriate government. According to the official, the revised bill would allow a certificate to be issued by the district magistrate indicating a change in gender on receipt of applications “after being satisfied”, the official said, suggesting that medical screening would not be required.

The bill was referred to the standing committee on social justice and empowerment, chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ramesh Bais, that submitted its report in July 2017.

While officials say the revised bill will drop “neither wholly female nor wholly male” from the definition, it is not as yet clear whether it will fully adopt the definition suggested by the parliamentary panel: “a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-men and trans-women (whether or not they have undergone sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy or laser therapy etc), gender-queers and a number of sociocultural identities such as kinnars, hijras, aravanis, jogtas, etc.”

The committee dubbed the bill’s original definition —“transgender person means a person who is (A) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or (B) a combination of female and male; or (C) neither female nor male; and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at the time of birth, and includes trans men and trans women, persons with intersex variations and gender-queers”— as primitive.

The standing committee said a transgender person should have the option to choose either “man”, “woman” or “transgender” as well as have the right to choose any of the options independent of surgery or hormone therapy.

Its suggestions included the need to address civil rights issues such as marriage and adoption, the need to define discrimination against transpeople and make all forms of violence against them commensurate with punishments under existing laws, and reservation in jobs and educational institutions. Most of these were hailed by the transgender community as progressive.

The revised bill will also specify that a comprehensive insurance scheme for coverage of medical expenses will include sex reassignment surgery, hormonal therapy and laser therapy, the official said.

While it not clear whether the revised bill addresses the issue of reservation for transpeople, Karthik Bittu, an associate professor of biology and psychology at Ashoka University who organised committee depositions from fellow transgender people, said the changes were essential.

“The bill should prioritise that no one should be criminalised. When it talks of penalising those who press transpeople into begging, it is unclear who can file a complaint against whom. Also, reservation is a must. The bill should also define discrimination (against transpeople) and the punishment for sexual violence against transpeople,” Bittu said.

First Published: Feb 18, 2018 17:51 IST