While the Kashmir issue was raging in the Rajya Sabha, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday by a voice vote, even members of the Congress, DMK and TMC raised slogans against the Bill. The Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawarchand Gehlot had moved the Bill to be passed in the Lower House of Parliament.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Rattan Lal Kataria, MoS, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, said the Bill will guarantee rights to and provide welfare measures for transgender persons, and work against the discrimination they face. “There were 27 amendments to the original Bill and we accepted most of them. The Bill was also passed in the 16th Lok Sabha. However, before it could reach the Rajya Sabha, the House was dissolved. On 19th July 2019, Minister Thawarchand Gehlot introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. According to the 2011 census, over 4.8 lakh (0.04%) people belong to the trans community. The government had a serious issue before it and after discussions and consultations with expert committees, this Bill was drafted. I appeal to members to pass the Bill,” Kataria said on the floor of the house.
However, the transgender community in India has opposed the Bill vehemently, with activists calling Monday a ‘Gender Justice Murder Day’ for the community. “The Bill is equal to killing trans people. The government is supposed to draft laws and schemes for the people but this Bill is totally against the people,” activist Grace Banu told TNM.
“For us, this Bill is just an empty white paper. It does not change the lives of trans people. We gave a list of demands but this government as usual ignored it. With this Bill, they have proved that they are against minorities. We are totally disappointed and we will mark this as a ‘Gender Justice Murder Day’,” she said.
The 2019 Bill states that a person would have the right to choose to be identified as a man, woman or transgender person, irrespective of sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy. However, the Bill requires transgender persons to go through a district magistrate and district screening committee to get certified as a trans person and a revised certificate may be obtained only if the individual undergoes surgery to confirm their gender. And in case the individual is denied the certificate, the Bill mentions no provisions for an appeal or review of the decision taken by the District Magistrate.
“The Bill has not provided any self-identification rights, promised by the NALSA judgment of 2014. They have removed the word 'screening committee'. But when we read the Bill, if we want to get an ID card we have to go to a District Magistrate and the DM will provide us with an ID card. If we want a male or female ID card, then a medical officer will examine our body. What is this if not a screening committee?” Grace added.
The 2018 Bill was opposed for criminalising begging – which made the trans community particularly vulnerable since many trans people in India are forced to take to begging due to lack of employment opportunities. This provision has been removed from the Bill, which now specifies the following offences: (i) compelling transgender persons to do forced or bonded labour (excluding compulsory government service for public purposes); (ii) denial of use of a public place; (iii) removal from household, village or other place of residence; and (iv) physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic abuse.
Gee Imaan Semmalar, a trans activist part of Sampoorna India, calls this a cosmetic change. “They have removed only two main portions – they have removed the district screening committees and the begging provision – that is the only real change we see in this version. But both are cosmetic changes. The begging clause they have removed but they have retained the clause about “enforced and bonded labour” and other such acts. They can broadly interpret it in any way that they want. And around 22 states in India have the Anti-Beggary Act and they can anyway enforce this. Just removing the phrases does not mean that it is an improvement on the previous Bill. The way they have passed the Bill – quickly, without discussions and on a day when Article 370 is also being revoked – is wrong,” he said.