Transgenders will send a plea to the President, asking him not to sign the bill and send it again to the Rajya Sabha for revision.
NEW DELHI: Despite criticism from transgender right activists, the Rajya Sabha passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019 on Tuesday.
In its attempt to safeguard the interests of transgenders, the bill prohibits discrimination against transgender persons in educational institutions, government establishments and also while renting or purchasing properties.
The Transgender bill also states that any physical or sexual abuse of transgender persons could attract punishment for six months that could be extended up to two years.
However, transgender rights activists across the country have alleged that the bill, instead of empowering the transgender community, is actually violating their rights. One of the transgender activists told The Sunday Guardian that apart from challenging it in the Supreme Court, the community will soon send a petition to President Ram Nath Kovind, asking him not to sign the bill and send it again to the Rajya Sabha for revision.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016. However, it faced criticism from transgender activists as it had defined transgenders as “neither wholly female nor wholly male.”
The bill was then sent to a parliamentary standing committee. In December 2018, the government returned with the bill and passed it in the Lok Sabha with a new definition for the word “transgender”. However, the bill didn’t pass in the Rajya Sabha.
Thus, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre returned to power for the second term, it re-introduced the bill and passed it in the Lok Sabha on 5 August.
Hence, now the bill defines a transgender as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. It includes trans men and trans women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and persons with socio-cultural identities, such as kinnar or hijra.
Swati Bidhan Baruah, a judge in a Lok Adalat in Guwahati and also a member of the community, told The Sunday Guardian: “Changing the definition of a transgender person is not sufficient. The provision of applying to a district magistrate for the identity certificate is a violation of National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) judgment. The Supreme Court in its NALSA judgment has already made it clear that I have the right of identify myself as a transgender. Now, as per this bill, a bureaucrat will decide my gender. This bill has snatched away the power given to us by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the government has not yet come out with rules and procedure for the same.”
In 2014, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in the case of National Legal Services Authority versus Union of India, popularly known as the NALSA judgment, recognised the rights of transgender persons and their right to decide their gender identity.
According to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, a transgender person may submit an application to the district magistrate for an identity certificate, thus indicating the gender as “transgender”.
A revised certificate may be obtained only if the individual undergoes surgery to change their gender either as a male or a female.
The mandate for the surgery in the bill is being criticised by the transgender community as most transgender persons do not opt for a surgery or require surgery.
Another contentious provision in the bill is that it says that transgender persons may be placed in the rehabilitation centre if their immediate family is found to be unable to take care of transgender persons.
Vijyanti Mogli, a Hyderabad-based transgender activist, told The Sunday Guardian: “If a normal person has bad terms with the natal home, is he put in a rehabilitation centre or a remand home? If someone is above 18 years old, he has the right to choose where he wants to live. The government has no right to dictate where and with whom we should live.”
“There is a disparity as sexual violence against women attracts punishment of minimum seven years. Punishment for sexual assault should be the same for all. How can the government say that the sexual assault against transgender is less punishable?” Mogli asked.