THE LOK Sabha passed the Bill to give transgender persons equal rights and protection under law through a voice vote on Monday, even as Opposition parties continued to create a ruckus in the House over the Rafale deal and Cauvery dispute.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, was passed with 27 amendments introduced by the government. The amendments suggested by Opposition members were rejected.
Responding to the debate, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said, “The Bill has been prepared after due discussion with all stakeholders. Work on the Bill has been going on since 2015. There was a private member’s Bill as well which has been discussed by Parliament. The Bill had gone to the standing committee, and as many as 27 amendments have been accepted by the government. Whatever other suggestions are there will be incorporated in the rules of the Act.”
Opposition members like Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab and RSP’s N K Premachandran had suggested several amendments. They had objected to transgender persons not being defined properly and the Bill not having any provision for self-determination of gender.
The Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2016, following which it was sent to a 31-member parliamentary standing committee. The amendments passed on Monday include a change in the previous definition of transgender persons as “neither wholly female or wholly male”, which was criticised as being insensitive.
The new definition terms a transgender person as one “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”.
Several civil society groups of transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals have been vocal about their opposition to the Bill, which disregards many of their suggestions as also some of the crucial points raised by the standing committee report of July 2017. This includes the right of transgender persons to self-identification, instead of being certified by a district screening committee. The panel had also pointed out that the Bill is silent on granting reservations to transgender persons.
The Supreme Court, in the landmark April 2014 NALSA judgment, had issued a directive “to extend all kinds of reservations in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments” by treating transgender persons as socially and educationally backward classes. They were to be given reservations under the 27 per cent OBC quota, a suggestion that was also endorsed by the National Commission for Backward Classes in its recommendations to the Social Justice Ministry in 2014.
On Monday, during discussions on the Bill, Tharoor called it “flawed” and lacking the required “robustness”, even as he supported the Bill. “The Bill must recognise that gender identity must go beyond biological… gender identity is an individual’s deep and personal experience. It need not correspond to the sex assigned at birth. It includes the personal sense of the body and other expressions such as one’s own personal inducing proceeds,” he said, adding that the Bill’s grievance redressal mechanism was a complete “failure”.
“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,” said BJD MP Mahtab.
NCP’s Supriya Sule demanded that the word ‘others’ in the gender column of government applications must be replaced with ‘Tgs’. “We need a separate welfare board for transgender persons because this is the first time they are coming out and they need equal rights,” she said.
TMC’s Kakoli Ghosh said the Bill was “hastily drafted” and its clauses were “inconclusive”.
Meanwhile, representatives from the transgender community criticised the government’s Bill as being retrograde in comparison to the private member’s Bill drafted by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva in consultation with the community. In April 2015, Siva’s Bill became the only private member’s Bill to be passed by the Rajya Sabha in 45 years. It was hailed by the community 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,” said Bittu Karthik Kondaiah, a scientist who is also part of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti.18