Lok Sabha passes Bill to correct definition of transgender
The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill that corrected the definition of transgender, but omitted the crucial right to self-identify one’s gender and reservations for the community.
The bill, tabled by Union social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, is expected to be introduced in the Upper House in the Winter session, which ends on January 8. The bill was introduced in 2016 and referred to a standing committee chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ramesh Bais, following nationwide protests by transpersons.
The committee submitted its report with multiple recommendations in July 2017. The new bill incorporated some recommendations, such as medical insurance for sex reassignment surgery, and introduction of persons with intersex variations as a distinct category. “The bill is complete and there is no need for more discussion,” Gehlot said.
But activists point out that the bill still mandates a district screening committee, comprising a Chief Medical Officer among others, to issue identity certificates, a provision they say violates a landmark Supreme Court judgment in 2014 that affirmed the right of transgender people to self-identify their gender.
“The bill is unscientific and goes against global best practices. It doesn’t prevent but encode discrimination,” said Karthik Bittu Kondaiah, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, who has testified before the committee.
Another unfulfilled demand was that of reservations. Grace Banu, a Dalit and transgender rights activist said, “We want horizontal reservation across education, jobs and other entitlements...the bill doesn’t provide social justice.”
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor moved a number of amendments, which were defeated. Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of the Trinamool Congress, Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party, Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal were among those who opposed the bill. “The bill is flawed...,” said Tharoor.
Among the major changes of the bill was the definition of “transgender”. The 2016 version defined transgender as “neither wholly female nor wholly male, a combination of female or male, neither female nor male”.
The new bill has changed the definition to “a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-man or trans-woman (where or not such person has undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery or hormone therapy..), person with intersex variations, gender-queer and person having socio-cultural identities as kinnar, hijra, aravani and jogta.”
The focus now shifts to the Rajya Sabha, where the National Democratic Alliance doesn’t have a majority. Tiruchi Siva, a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam member who had drafted a private members bill that was passed in the Upper House in 2016, said he would strongly oppose the new draft legislation.