Transgender bill criminalises community, say activists; seek its overhaul
Transgender activists called on Tuesday for an overhaul of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, saying the draft legislation criminalised the community, denied them constitutionally guaranteed rights, and was silent on the key demand of reservation.
Transgender activists and groups held protests across India against the bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday. “We reject the bill in its present form which upholds the criminalisation of transpersons and denies opportunities in education and employment by being silent on issues of reservation. We would urge the Rajya Sabha to redirect the bill to a Select Committee,” said Anindya Hajra, an activist.
They said a provision that mandates a screening committee to issue identity certificates violates the right to self-identify one’s gender, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court in a 2014 judgment. The bill is to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha this session.
Another objection was the criminalisation of traditional community occupations such as begging and sex work, which are punishable by imprisonment for up to two years under the bill. “No doors are opened for employment, no definition of discrimination is offered and the bill doesn’t ask what kind of barriers transpeople face. It makes things worse,” said Karthik Bittu Kondaiah, an assistant professor at Ashoka University.
Other objections included the low quantum of punishment for violence against transgender people – two years in the bill as opposed to seven to life under the IPC for sexual assault, for instance, – and the absence of reservation, another provision in the apex court’s 2014 judgment.
“I have a problem with the words ‘genderqueer’ in the definition of transgender. Moreover, transpeople should get reservation on socio-economic condition,” said activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.
The transgender rights bill was first passed in the Rajya Sabha as a private member’s bill by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva in 2015. The next year, the government introduced its version of the bill in the Lok Sabha, which was sent to a standing committee. After deliberations for almost a year, the committee made several recommendations, some of which were incorporated in the draft of the bill Union social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot tabled in the Lok Sabha Monday.
Among the big changes were the definition of transgender, which was expanded, medical insurance for sex reassignment surgery, and introduction of persons with intersex variations as a separate category.
The government ruled out any further changes. “The bill is complete and there is no need for more discussion,” Gehlot said.