Last year around this time, I was sitting with my queer and trans friends in gloom. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was released by the government and it completely stripped us of the rights that the NALSA verdict had given us. We were scared and worried. What would happen to us? Why did we have to answer a thousand questions about our gender identity to a Committee to prove who we are? We are already at the receiving end of social and institutional marginalisation. Now, in the name of granting rights to us, we were being further subjected to institutional oppression.
Legislation prepared by the State can empower the marginalised, and change their lives. However, the government has passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill which was opposed by us trans and gender non conforming persons, collectives, and organisations since the first draft of the Bill was released. The Bill, in its present form, completely goes against the NALSA verdict in 2014, which accorded trans individuals the right to self-identify as ‘third gender’ or within the binary (as male or female). It also recommended reservations in the fields of education and employment, and demanded socio-economic upliftment by the state. But today’s Bill ignores the spirit of the NALSA verdict, leaving us in shock and anger.
As an agender trans person, I find myself complete in the dark because I am worried how the Trans Bill will place me. Will it accept me as trans? Will I be subjected to an invasive personal body check to determine my gender identity? As a friend of other trans persons with varying privileges and marginalisations, I fear for them as well. This Bill refuses to recognise the importance of the right to self determination of gender identity, wherein only the person concerned determines their gender and no other organization or person can determine for that person. However, in the present Bill, there is a District Screening Committee headed by the District Collector, which will determine if the person is trans or not. This very thought inspires fear in me. It dehumanises us as we will be physically checked and asked to strip and put our bodies on display for mostly cisgender heterosexual eyes who will inspect us and then tell us what we are. It was not enough that we face harassment in all forms, but this is an institutionalised assault on our being and bodies.
Second, is the issue of reservations. This Bill does not provide for any reservations in the field of employment and education as directed by the Supreme Court in the NALSA verdict. The main question that arises is how does the government plan to ensure that trans and gender non conforming persons can overcome the systemic socio-economic discrimination that exists in Indian society without being able to access higher education and jobs. The fact that this is not included in the Bill is a clear indication that the Bill is merely a facade that claims to give rights but actually takes them away in the name of giving them.
Third, a crucial problem is the definition of family in the Bill. It has rejected the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s definition of family which also includes family of choice, partnership, marriage and friendship. It refuses to acknowledge the violence that we face in our biological families and rejects the families of choices and queer relationships that we form with other queer and trans persons wherein we understand each other and are there to support each other in everything. It will not acknowledge the Hijra gharanas and attacks their existence. It attacks the family of choice I have found in my collective. It states that it will put trans children in ‘rehabilitation’ centres without stating how these centres will work and how it will be different from the existing rehabilitation centres which are known to be oppressive in nature.
Fourth, the Bill criminalises begging and ‘enticement to any form of forced labour’ without providing any form of alternative employment. It first refuses to provide reservations in education and employment and then, criminalises the primary occupations of trans persons across the country. It is criminalising our existence in practice. The Bill gives lighter penalties in case of violence and discrimination as compared to those penalties in the case of cis – gendered women.
It is outrageous how this government is attacking our rights in spite of the repeated community feedback given to the various editions of the Bill. My friends and I are scared of the coming future. The Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha. It will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha. We are fighting to ensure that this Bill does not get passed and take away our rights. We strongly condemn this Bill.