Transgender Rights
From Tamil Nadu alone, at least 7,000 postcards have been sent to the President.

When the Parliament passed the regressive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, it dealt a huge blow to transgender communities in India. The Bill was passed despite massive protests and outrage across India against the legislation in its current form. And now, as the Bill awaits Presidential assent, thousands of people across India are appealing to President Ram Nath Kovind to not sanction it to become a law.

Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition (TNRC), along with transgender communities in the state have come together to launch a campaign to send postcards to the President to refuse assent to the Bill in its present form.

Speaking to TNM, Srijith, a Chennai-based LGBTQIA+ activist, who is also part of the campaign, shared that they have received unprecedented support not just from Chennai and other districts of Tamil Nadu, but also from across India. “The leaders of transgender communities who are connected through WhatsApp have received messages of support from states like Kerala, Gujarat and Delhi, and many cities including Hyderabad and Jamshedpur. People have sent us photos of them posting the postcards from across the country,” he says.

From Tamil Nadu alone, at least 7,000 postcards have been sent to the President, says Sabitha, a trans woman who is associated with the campaign. And more responses and support are pouring in rapidly, thanks to mobilisation on social media.

Srijith says that they have received support not only from LGBTQIA+ and trangender groups, but also from cis women, students, allies across India. "Just today, one of our friends, a trans woman, took an auto ride by the end of which, the auto driver also wanted to sign a postcard and send it!" he shares.  

The postcards read, “We request you to not sign the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, that has been passed in Parliament. The Bill, which is against the SC judgment in the NALSA case, and is in the nature of being unfair to the transgender community, should not be given legal validity by you. Please respect the voice of the unheard.”

Sabitha explains that trans persons from across the country have been highlighting two demands that the communities have been repeating in their protests: One, the bill that has been passed is against the interests of those it seeks to protect. It is therefore imperative to ask for inputs from the community. And two, urging the President to use his power to not sign the Bill and send it back to the Parliament so that it can be looked at by a select committee.

In a press release that was part of the campaign launch on Tuesday, the problems with the Bill were highlighted. “We transgender community members, allies, and members of the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition, a network of LGBTIQA+ groups, collectives and individuals, write to express our profound dismay at the passing of the trans bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill, that was passed by the Rajya Sabha on November 26, 2019, is in gross violation of the Supreme Court of India’s NALSA verdict of 2014, and Articles of the constitution such as Article 21 (Right to Life and Liberty), Article 19(1a) (Right to freedom of speech and expression),” it says.

The Collective points out that the Bill’s primary violation is that of the NALSA judgment of 2014 which gave everyone the right to self-determination. “Although the Transgender Bill 2019 does away with the Screening Committee, granting of transgender identity is based on approval of the District Magistrate who has discretionary powers to deny the application. Additionally, for a transgender person to identify as male or female, proof of surgery is required, which contradicts NALSA.”

They also raise objection to the assumption the Bill makes that the biological family is the primary caregiver for transgender persons – biological families are often the primary site of violence against transgender children. Further, they point out that the Bill makes no mention of reservation in education and employment.

The Trans Bill also treats transgender persons as inferior citizens, designating lesser punishment for crimes against them – for instance, rape of a transgender person will only attract the imprisonment of up to two years. However, committing rape of a cis woman invites a minimum imprisonment of 10 years.

TNRC also makes a case for free gender-affirmation surgeries and hormone therapies to be made available across India, among other things.

“Unless these changes are incorporated, we ask that the Transgender Rights Bill (2019) not be given Presidential assent,” TNRC says. 

With inputs from Megha Kaveri