Transgender rights bill gets House nod as activists protest
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, defeating an Opposition motion to send the bill to a select committee and sparking protest by activist groups who said they will challenge the law in court.
The bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha in August, will become law after the social justice ministry formulates the rules for its implementation. Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot told the upper House that efforts will be made to incorporate the suggestions presented by many Opposition members while framing the rules.
A motion by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Tiruchi Siva to send the bill to a select committee was defeated 67 Nos to 48 Ayes, with one abstention.
“We can wait for another six weeks till the next session for such a crucial bill’s scrutiny for slow and steady legislation. The bill in the present form has several lacunae,” Siva said.
This is one of the few pieces of legislation in the world that aims to protect the rights of transgender persons. The bill itself has seen several iterations, and become the topic of much discussion among civil society and the state.
Last week, the Upper House took up the bill for discussion, and 30 members raised questions over its clauses. Parties such as the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Congress and Biju Janata Dal objected to the bill.
A controversial provision in the bill was the stipulation of a maximum sentence of two years for sexual violence committed against trans persons, while the Indian Penal Code provision for violence committed against women is up to seven years.
On Tuesday, Gehlot clarified that all provisions of the IPC will be applicable for trans persons too, and added that the two-year sentence was only with respect to sexual abuse, and not rape.
“It is sad that the bill was passed on Constitution Day, where key fundamental rights of liberty, privacy and equality have not been upheld,” said Sowmya Gupta, a Delhi-based activist.
Activist groups said they are planning to hold protests across India and challenge the law in court once it gets notified. “This is a law that will kill us. We have been saying for three years that we don’t want this bill. We will challenge this bill and protest across India,” said Grace Banu, a Tamil Nadu-based activist.
“The bill was passed in a great hurry, and affects the lives of several trans people. Effectively, many will have to wait until they have surgery before they can get binary identities, through this two-tier process [stipulated by the bill]. This will also mean that once you are trans on paper, you will be unprotected by laws around sexual violence. This is an impossible choice to place before trans persons,” said Karthik Bittu Kondaiah, an associate professor at Ashoka University.
Siva had moved a private member’s bill — the Rights of Transgender Persons bill, 2014 — which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2015. But the government decided to bring its own version of the bill, which was introduced in 2016 by Gehlot . The bill was referred to a parliamentary standing committee, which submitted its report in July 2017 and suggested several amendments. The new bill incorporated some of the recommendations, but retained the provision of certificates to transpersons as transgender, man or woman, based on possible surgical intervention.
In 2014, the Supreme Court passed the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) vs Union of India verdict, which stated that any government insistence on proof of having undergone surgery to establish one’s gender is “illegal and immoral”.
A new version of the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2018, but lapsed after the term of the Parliament ended. The latest bill, introduced in July 2019 amended certain controversial clauses, including that of a screening committee that would ascertain a person’s gender, despite a Supreme Court verdict stating that self-identification was the basis of all gender identity.