Veera, a student pursuing her Masters from a reputed university in Bihar, lives in her little one-room flat in a rickety building surrounded by flowing nallahs and hustle-bustle of the busy neighborhood of Patna. No one wants to let her their house on rent because for them she is just another hijra who begs money with that sharp clap. She begs in train. She also dresses in mini-skirts for launda dance where she locks herself in cage and dance to the high decibel item numbers just to entertain men around him. This is how she earns a livelihood. Does her family support her? She is from Madhya Pradesh, left her home for a better life in Patna. Her father and brother think she is an embarrassment to the society. Her mother was the only one who understood her and cared for her until she passed away; making her alone on this earth. So, she has to pay the room rent, feed herself, fund her hormone therapy and meet the other basic necessities all by herself. There was an instance when she was abused by a boy in her university campus and she was beaten with a Pepsi glass bottle whose mark can be seen on her face. Veera’s story reflects the harsh realities of many like her whose identity threatens their life.
You can spot many Veeras on trains and buses, roads or in front of your house with that sharp clap. They come to bless your child or bless any auspicious event. We pay them whatsoever they demand, willingly or unwillingly. Many accuse them of extorting in the name of blessing. But, do we really know anything about these trans-women whom we call hijra, eunuch, kinnar, etc.; What do we know about them? For centuries, the trans-women community has been remained ostracized from our concept of the mainstream society. Blame it on the society that labels a person in gender binaries- that is either a person is a male and or female. The Transgender Bill, 2018, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 17, 2018, was supposed to integrate the community into the ‘mainstream society’ where they can enjoy their rights. According to the Bill, a transgender will be granted the identity certificate issued by the District Magistrate only after a thorough screening which involves Chief Medical Officer, District Welfare Officer, Psychologist or Psychiatrist, Representative of Transgender community and an Officer from the Government. In India, people face unpleasant tides of distress while applying for Aadhaar card or driving license and in the present condition of our bureaucracy, one can imagine that the whole screening process for the sake of identity will be even more tedious.
The 2018 Bill also contradicts apex court’s judgment which states that the trans-community do not need anyone’s acknowledgment as a person’s gender identity by saying that any people from trans-community who wish to identify either as a man or a woman has to go through a sex reassignment surgery. Moreover, the Bill states begging to be a crime. In India, begging has not been criminalised. In August 2018, Delhi High Court turned down several provisions of Bombay’s Prevention of Begging Act by labeling them as unconstitutional and saying that “criminalizing begging” violates the fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people living in our society. Thus the criminalization of begging by a transgender person shows the transphobic face of our lawmakers who drafted this transphobic Bill.
In 2017, a Parliamentary Panel did a favor of reservation for transgenders. However in the draft of the 2016 Bill, it was dropped because of protest by OBC groups who feared that their share in quota will get diluted. DMK MP Tiruchi Siva introduced The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill in Rajya Sabha as a Private Member Bill, the first to be passed after 45 long years, mentioned an assured 2% reservation for trans-community in jobs and education. The 2018 Bill is largely modeled around this but the major difference is that the 2% reservation is totally wiped out by the Government from its Bill. The need of the hour is right to equality of opportunity to the transgender community so that no Veeras have to go in trains and beg, get assaulted in colleges and universities or dance inside a cage to earn a living. In our society filled with stereotypes where discrimination and atrocities against Dalits is an epidemic, equality and no-discrimination policy in the workplace and educational institutions are merely illusions. Babita, an LGBTQ activist from Bihar says, “When you see a transman, you may think him to be a girl. But when you see a trans-woman like me, you will think that I am a man draped in saree and this offends you. Thus I become an object of ridicule. So, in such a scenario, how can we talk about gender-neutral toilets (as the world is advocating). Our fight is about acceptance and inclusion. In such a situation, the Transgender Rights Bill is just a joke.”
However, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 has several loopholes. Several LGBT activists have staged their protests to oppose the bill that has done little to nothing to change their social status. Certainly steps like welfare schemes for transgender persons or setting up of a National Council for Transgender Persons are some of the constructive steps taken by the Government to acknowledge the identity of transgender. But as someone who witnessed their lives so closely, I firmly believe that these people deserve to be judged more than their sharp clap or begging money or dancing in cages. Today, Veera aims to work for society and hopes to be a documentary filmmaker. We have several remarkable trans-women like Satyashri Sharmila, Manabi Bandopadhyay, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and many more who fought against all odds and established themselves as the powerful voices of our society. There is a need for dialogue so that we can discuss how can we include the interest of our transgender community in our mainstream conventional society, and I believe that this movement around Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 will play a crucial role in empowering millions like Veera who do not fall into the binaries of gender.