Dear Shri Ramesh Bais and members of the Committee,
An article titled, "The govt wants to help transgender people, but can it identify them?" was published a week back, on 11th September 2016, in the Hindustan Times.
The article carries responses from Shri Ramesh Bais, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Transgender Persons [Protection of Rights] Bill, 2016, as well as from one Dr Piyush Saxena, stated to be the founder of an organization with a very problematic name "Salvation of Oppressed Eunuchs".
Many in the trans community have been shocked on reading the quotes attributed to Shri Ramesh Bais and Dr. Piyush Saxena. If these quotes are indeed the views held by the two concerned persons, then we are extremely concerned about the outcome of the upcoming winter session of Parliament, when the Bill is likely to be tabled again. These views on trans people are at odds with not only the demands of, and the lived realities of the transgender community, but also, scientific understanding of trans identity and expression, that has already informed new thinking at WHO [World Health Organisation], and is accepted as foundational by WPATH [World Professional Association of Transgender Health].
Dr Saxena asserts in the article that all his inputs regarding the social, economic, cultural, and legal standing of transgender persons has been completely accepted by Shri Bais, and that the Standing committee recommendations to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 is largely based on his inputs. This includes the definition of a transgender person and the recommended physical screening as the process of certification of a trans person.
Dr Saxena is quoted in this article as saying that the identification process can be made on the basis of physical traits. "Sometimes, they're sexually very hot," said Saxena of transgender women, even though "they never have an erection. Erection is one thing they never have. This is the fundamental difference between a gay and a transgender. They don't have erections, they have a masculine body, and they want penetration to be done by their male boyfriend." For identification of trans men, Mr Saxena also had a biological explanation: that they have an â€œenlarged clitoris".
It is important to note that Dr Piyush Saxena, is neither a self-identified trans person nor an intersex person and yet, thinks it to be his rightful place to determine policy level interventions for a community he understands by the now totally discredited colonial nomenclature â€˜eunuchâ€™!! One can only imagine what may befall members of our communities if such people are allowed to have any influence on TG and Intersex policy matters.
But the most disturbing quote has been attributed to Shri Ramesh Bais, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on TG Bill. He is also quoted as saying that trans people have "abnormal composition of hormones" and that trans women grow breasts at age 10!"
Taking the quotes of Shri Ramesh Bais and Dr Piyush Saxena to be true, we are deeply disturbed at the total lack of respect and knowledge of trans identities and expressions shown by the Chairperson of the Standing committee responsible for the Bill. We condemn this unscientific and voyeuristic characterisation of trans people that is founded on nothing but their own imagination.
But more importantly, these statements are in gross violation of the Supreme Court verdict in the 2014 NALSA vs. Union of India case. The Supreme Court held that a personâ€™s gender identity is inherently unique and is entirely self-determined, and that no medical or surgical transitioning procedures are required to assert such a self-determined gender.
Here is what some of the medical experts that have been working with our group Sampoorna [A network of trans and intersex Indians] for more than the last 15 years now, have to say about the above statements:
1. The content of the article in the HT makes me wonder about the source and the presence of confusion about what it is to be 'trans' and what its essential features are. Over the last few years there is and has been a remarkable shift in thinking by international bodies like the WHO and the UN, and indeed the NALSA & the Supreme Court of India. Today there is access to all this thinking, as well as the availability in India of stakeholders, as well as medical experts, who are willing and able to articulate the experience in addition to the support coming from current science.
Indeed, there is more clarity now, than has ever been, and more consensus all over the world regarding the nature of and the definition of 'trans'. If the quotes of this article have any truth, I wonder where then has the concept of "biological features" emerged from?! How has it even been considered in this bill?!
The entire premise of any 'identity', the premise of " I am a ..... " is the felt and believed experience of the person. In my clinical knowledge and experience, the difference between being assigned a gender at birth and arriving at the awareness of one's gender identity, can only be known by people who experience the difference between the two events, and no one else. There is no scientific evidence available at this time that can attribute a 'trans identity/expression' to any other parameter. There is no known contribution of the 'biological sex in the knowledge of one's gender. Indeed, the biological or assigned sex is mostly the cause of distress due to its mismatch with the felt gender.
I hope that the authorities cross check and look at the credible evidence available from so many domestic and international sources today and are guided by that, rather than go with an 'opinion'. Any attempt to establish 'biological features' as the basis of a trans identity/expression, has the potential to bring great harm to the persons already struggling with immense difficulties. -Dr Kavita Arora,Child & Adolescent Psychaitrist, Children First, New Delhi (MBBS, MD [Psy], CCST [Psy, UK])
2. I am deeply concerned on reading this article. The position held that there are essential biological traits that distinguish transgender people is absolutely unscientific. The world is moving towards the depathologisation of the trans person and if the quotes/contents of this article are true, it will mean that we may be going back instead of making progress! It is important to note that two world organizations like the WHO and WPATH have taken a new direction towards trans people and India stands at a threshold of liberating itself from the old thoughts and myths and create an enabling environment to help each individual in this community to reach their goal and be a part of the mainstream with complete acceptance. Its Indian's golden chance to be a world leader in trans liberty and rights at the highest level. I am looking forward to the TG Bill opening the world of possibilities for trans and intersex people. We need a bill in line with the scientific thinking that enables the medical community to be of service to the trans population. -Dr Sanjay Pandey, Consultant - Urology, Gender Reassignment and Renal Transplantation, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital & Medical Research Institute, Mumbai.
3. It is said that transgender people have an "abnormal composition of hormones". However, we must be careful not to mix the two populations of trans people with intersex states, especially as far as their 'defining criterions' are concerned. While intersex persons have biological attributes that represent the natural diversity of human bodies and medical intervention is required only if a person is experiencing a life threatening situation, the trans identity and expression on the other hand, are all about self-identification. No external agency can be involved in the determination of such an identity/expression. It is the person's own self-identification that works in a trans situation.
In the light of this it's extremely important that transgender and intersex are clearly addressed in the upcoming TG Bill and we can be in step with international standards of offering Trans Healthcare in India. Infact it would be appropriate to even name this the TG & Intersex Bill, so both populations are given their due representation with regards to legal rights as well as all kinds of state welfare schemes, including health. -Dr Dheeraj Kapoor, Head, Endocrinologist (MRCP [UK}, MD [UK], CCST [Diab and Endo] [UK]), Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital & Medical Research Institute, Mumbai.
The above responses are from experts working in highly specialized lines of trans healthcare. Even those who are working in general healthcare have been shocked with the quotes attributed to Shri Ramesh Bais and Dr Piyush Saxena.
Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a doctor who offers general healthcare to trans people has responded very clearly and strongly:
4. The central governmentâ€™s plan of bringing an ID card for transgender people is riding on the back of dangerous misconceptions and prejudices which will expose the community to violations of privacy and dignity, particularly about using examination of genitalia as a 'diagnosis' of a persons sexuality. Dr. Piyush Saxena should be immediately taken off as the technical advisor for the Bill as he has shown on several occasions that he is not only ignorant of even basic aspects of transgender issues, but is dangerous and opposed to transgender rights. The government should engage with transgender communities through a transparent and consultative process and arrive at a Bill that is genuinely transgender friendly.
In December 2016, The Sampoorna Working Group made a deposition to the Standing Committee on the TG Bill in Delhi, to place on record our views and feedback on the Bill. The deposition included two presentations by trans masculine persons who are not intersex and one by a gender-queer intersex person. The entire period of our testimony was spent in explaining the differences and overlaps between the concepts of trans and intersex and why they cannot be confused and conflated with each other. We also highlighted the various discriminations, hate and violence that transgender persons face, and why the TG Bill, as currently drafted, will perpetuate that same system of violence, if it is perceived to be grounded on some archaic, non-scientific notions of what constitutes transgender and what constitutes intersex. In fact, we ended with a very strong recommendation to rename the bill, The TG and Intersex Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016, exactly because not doing so will continue to perpetuate these archaic and non-scientific ideas. Numerous questions by the members of the committee followed from our presentation and we had a very lively and encouraging exchange. The Chairperson headed the panel at the time of our deposition and had very positive feedback to give us when we finished our presentations and especially encouraged us when we met him informally during the tea session. It is unbelievable for us that these quotes could be attributed to the same Chairperson from whom we had such an expression of understanding and assurance.
We request the Chairperson Shri Ramesh Bais to clarify if the quotes attributed to him in this article are true or not. We request him to reassure us that he is indeed guided by the fullness of the depositions made to him by various stakeholders of our communities. In the absence of this, it will be our reading that the entire process of the depositions was just a farce and we will be left with no hope that the Bill will actually provide any protection or empowerment to the full spectrum of our trans and intersex communities. On the other hand, if the attributions are true, we would rather that the Bill be fully scrapped than make us submit ourselves to humiliating physical checks and an alienating and undignified definition of who we are in return for minimum State benefits.