In the middle of noisy protests over the Rafale deal and the Cauvery issue, the Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill seeking to empower India’s transgender community.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, which aims to define transgenders and curb discrimination against them, was introduced in the Lok Sabha two years ago. It was passed on Monday with 27 amendments.
The Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2016, after which it was sent to a 31-member parliamentary standing committee.The amendments passed on Monday included a change in the previous definition of transgender persons as “neither wholly female or wholly male”, which was criticisedas being insensitive.
According to the new definition, a transgender person is somebody “whose gender does not match the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-men or trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and persons having socio-cultural identities such as kinnar, hijras, aravani, and jogta”.
What does the Bill guarantee?
The Bill aims to stop discrimination against a transgender person in various sectors such as education, employment, and healthcare. It also directs the central and state governments to provide welfare schemes for them.
Moving the bill, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot said that it was a long-standing demand to bring a legislation to protect the rights of transgender persons and their welfare. He added that the bill is aimed at bringing the community into the mainstream of the society.
Debates on the bill
Opposition members, such as Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab, and RSP’s N.K. Premachandran, had suggested several amendments.
The opposing member had objected to transgender persons not being defined properly and that the Bill did not have any provision for self-determination of gender. TMC’s Kakoli Ghosh said the Bill was “hastily drafted” and its clauses were “inconclusive”.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor noted that the bill was “flawed” and said that the minister should withdraw it. “Defer consideration of the bill as it needs serious discussion. I request the minister to withdraw the bill,” Tharoor said.”We need to recognise transgenders’ identity” as it surpasses male and female, Tharoor said, adding that the government has “blindly”borrowed the definition of transgenders, as per a PTIreport.
BJD MP Mahtab said that the Bill remained unclear on the term ‘self-perceived gender identity’. “When the Bill states that a person will be recognised as transgender on the basis of a certificate of identity issued through the district screening committee, and that certificate will be a proof of identity as transgender and confer rights under this Bill, then it is very unclear what the term ‘self-perceived gender identity’ entails and how it will be enforced,” Mahtab said, the Indian Express reported.
NCP’s Supriya Sule said that a transgender commission at the national level was not sufficient. “We are asking for a welfare board for transgenders. They need equal rights,” she said, and also demanded for a helpline number for the community.
How have transgenders responded?
Representatives from the transgender community criticised the Bill as being regressive in comparison to the private member’s Bill that was drafted by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva in consultation with the community in April 2015.
The community lauded Siva’s Bill for its progressive provisions, such as reservation rights, employment and education opportunities, right to self-determination, and a Transgender Rights Commission.
“The Bill passed today has prescribed punishments for organised begging. Trans community isn’t begging because that’s what they want to do. Trans youth who don’t find jobs join their gurus in begging due to systematic discrimination in education, job, and healthcare.
This Bill doesn’t provide anything to better our condition in those areas, it doesn’t provide for reservation. It upholds lighter consequences for discrimination and assault on trans people compared to cisgender people,” Bittu Karthik Kondaiah, a scientist who is associated with the Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti, told the IndianExpress.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius