In a major relief to the transgender community in Telangana, the Hyderabad High Court on Tuesday read down the century-old Telangana Eunuchs Act 1329F which gave the state police arbitrary powers to arrest and prosecute transgender persons.
The court passed an interim order based on a petition filed by transgender activist Vyjayanti Vasanta Moguli and two other activists in Hyderabad, calling the draconian colonial legislation ‘wholly unconstitutional’. Counsel lawyer Jayna Kothari, arguing for the petitioner, argued that the act blatantly violated the rights of the transgender community and the word ‘eunuch’ itself was stigmatising.
Speaking to TNM, Vyjayanti said that the Act was challenged on the grounds that it is discriminatory, since it criminalises the transgender community unfairly and without any legal basis.
“The Eunuchs Act 1329F is a continuation of the criminal tribe act that was denotified soon after Independence. The Act gives the police the right to detain any transgender person found in the company of children below 16 years of age. Do trans people have no right to bring up children?” Vyjayanti asked.
The petition further argued that the Act violated the freedom of speech and expression of the transgender community and took away the right to privacy, family life and expression of gender identity, all protected rights under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
It empowered the police to maintain a register and make arrests in cases where persons were found singing or dancing or cross-dressing in public spaces.
In response to the arguments, the government counsel told the court that the law was adopted by the Telangana government following the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act. Reacting to the government submissions, the bench asked why the state was advocating for a law that pointed at one particular community while there are several other laws that prosecute criminals for similar offences.
“While there are Acts like Prevention of Detention, why is the state keen to enforce a draconian law? The Eunuch Act 1329F law guarantees punishment only up to 2 years for any kind of offence, while the PD Act has stringent provisions for similar crimes. Then why is only a particular community being witch-hunted?” the bench questioned.
Vyjayanti said the word ‘eunuch’ itself was berating and in the neighbouring state Karnataka, the word was removed from the Act when it was pointed out.
After passing the interim order, the bench has ordered the government counsel to file a counter affidavit within four weeks and adjourned the hearing to October 16.