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As A Trans Woman, I See The Trans Bill As A Massive Blunder

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Indian society, I believe, is a game of whack-a-mole, only with life and death at stake. Just as one glaring issue is knocked in the head, a new one appears in a trice with potential to destroy lives. It is beyond frustrating that this particular new challenge was entirely avoidable, and yet, we are faced with a deeply problematic Bill not too long after the positive Section 377 verdict (Navtej Singh Johar vs UoI), a Bill which is not too far from becoming the law of the land–The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019.

Trinetra, a transwoman and medical student.

Most (if not all) the recommendations of a Parliamentary Screening Committee, a Private Member’s Bill– introduced by Tiruchi Siva, passed by the Rajya Sabha (never to see the same fate in the Lower House)— and those from activist-groups, academics, sex-workers’ unions, NGOs and more were rejected in the drafting of this Bill in 2016. There was outrage. The reason for fiery protests breaking out is that after the Lok Sabha, it is now the Rajya Sabha that has  passed the bill.

I, a trans woman and medical student, spent much of this year transitioning from male to female. While the journey has undoubtedly been terrifying and challenging, what has been most poignant is the discovery of just how far behind Indian society is in its medical, legal, and social understanding of who trans people are. The multifarious ways our lives are affected when legislation is created steeped in what seems like compassion-mongering seem laughably invisible to law-makers.

To say the very least, it is ironic that several of its provisions are not just in direct contradiction to the exemplary NALSA Judgement (Nalsa vs UoI) of 2014, but are, in essence, a stark contrast to the ethos of the Indian Constitution. Some issues are listed herein—

  1. Denial of the basic tenet of self-determination of gender, as elucidated by the NALSA judgement with the proposing of a screening committee at the district level, which will screen pre/non-operative and post-operative trans individuals, stating that the former is entitled only to the legal title of “transgender”, whilst allowing only the latter legal markers of “male” or “female” after screening. This violates the principle that surgery, hormonal treatment, any and all form of medical intervention is not indicative of gender identity, as upheld by NALSA vs UoI. The medical fraternity lacks medical training in trans health (more on this later), and despite being the most qualified members of said proposed screening committee, will lack the sensitivity and training to identify gender incongruence–a massive logical fallacy, in addition to ignoring the right to self-determination.
  2. Failure to recognize non biological/natal familial relations and structures within the local trans communities (Hijra, Aravani, Kothi, Jogta, and hundreds more) in addition to disrupting the same, by way of criminalising begging and sex work in conjunction with the Trafficking Bill. This necessitates that even adult trans people be housed with biological family, even if against their will. It places undue significant rights over trans lives in the hands of often unaccepting, violent, and abusive biological family, owing to which local trans communities continue to exist in marginalisation in the first place. The guru-chela system in a local trans community can’t be split into two–the trafficked and the traffickers—particularly when much of the sex work is not involuntary, for want of other options of livelihood and shelter.
  1. Failure to elucidate on reservations or affirmative action, access to jobs, healthcare, and anti-discriminatory measures. This, with the criminalsation of existing means of livelihood, leaves marginalised trans communities with little to no source of income.
  1. Anti-discrimination or punishment has been reduced and watered down regarding sentencing for the same crimes committed against trans people, with respect to cisgender individuals. This is, with stark clarity, a violation of the right to equality.

While this list is not exhaustive, attempts at describing every implication, perhaps, will never truly describe the complete bigger picture–this is how endlessly lives stand to be disrupted.

At the start of this year, I was denied girls/women’s hostel and any form of university housing save teachers’ quarters, and only if a family member were willing to (drop their lives/livelihoods to) live with me, practically in isolation from fellow students. The Transgender Bill was one of several (inadequate) reasons stated. It was clear to me from this that the Bill in principle or execution paves the way for a lack of clarity, an exacerbated denial of rights, and further isolation in the provision of education, employment, healthcare, and more. Further, issues of socio-economic status, caste, disability, inequitable healthcare, and religion intersect with gender extensively to create a dense web of oppression.

Speaking specifically of healthcare and medicine, the identification of Gender Incongruence (the discomfort caused by one’s gender identity being incongruent to their assigned sex and roles) is something a medical professional alone (specifically a mental health professional) should be able to do based on criteria in the International Classification of Diseases and suggestions by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)—and no one else, whether cis or trans. This identification alone should be enough to apply for all change of documents as stated by NALSA vs UoI, and it is why my Aadhaar Card states ‘female’ and did so even before I started hormones. I have, however, not undergone surgery, and several documents remain to be changed, such as my school certificates. Should the Bill be passed, must I and every other trans person then face the humiliation of being told by several cisgender people how valid our identities are based on physical and/or psychological denudation, before proceeding with our medico-legal transitions?

It is clear to me, having spent three years in medical college, that there exists, on multiple counts, a large amount of misinformation, misrepresentation, and pathologisation of trans and queer people in our medical textbooks and syllabus, even in the field of psychiatry. Training regarding care of trans and queer people is next to absent in medical training. I see hints of change on campus, like the inclusion of gender and sexuality as one of the topics of discussion in a Medical Humanities lecture series for first year medical students. But the same can’t be said for medical colleges across India.

Most trans people I have spoken to agree with me based on personal experience that even the most qualified doctor, mental health professional, or surgeon in India is oftentimes clueless about the existence of trans and queer identities, let alone the existence of respectful treatment of trans and queer patients in a hospital setting. This apart, sexual harassment of trans and queer people within the medical fraternity is rampant. There exists no formal medical association in India (a national equivalent of WPATH) to oversee transition medicine, mental health, and surgery, and no formal or specific guidelines to hold erring medical professionals accountable with respect to medical malpractice in the treatment of trans and queer people.

If the said screening committee is set up thanks to the Bill, to even assume that the most qualified of the screening committees will identify and reaffirm trans identities without error is highly illogical, and undue delays are bound to occur. Should it even function perfectly with respect to global medical standards, it is a barrier, a form of gate-keeping nonetheless. Further, what does an individual do if rejected? All of this is likely to make doctors even more hesitant to offer trans people the healthcare they rightfully deserve.

This Bill is a fairly accurate representation of centuries-old reluctance to break barriers and understand the workings of marginalized communities. Its direct and indirect implications in the integration and acceptance of trans people in society are troubling. Whether the Rajya Sabha will pay heed to the outrage and protest remains to be seen.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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