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The Trans Bill, Now An Act, Is A Socially Biased Legislation

I have a few questions for the people of ‘socially accepted’ genders: Have you ever looked in the mirror only to find a stranger staring back at you? Have you sat in a room full of people laughing and hissing at you to the point where you are no longer seen as a fellow-human? Have your dream ever been snatched away from you obnoxiously?

I assume that your answer is yes for at least one of these questions. Can you live that day or the moment for most of your life? I am talking about big numbers here, like 70%. You might say, “Why would I when I have the privilege of walking out of the place that makes me cringe at myself for all my life?” Unfortunately, transgender people don’t have the privilege of having this option.

The exclusive dignity and identity of being a human have been carefully scraped away from them as they loudly say it for the first time, “I am a transgender person”. Careful enough not to leave behind even a bit of dignity mistakenly. When I say a transgender person I refer to transwomen, transmen, bigender, and agender. Honestly, before sitting down to write this, all I knew was transgender included only transmen and transwomen. How did we manage to make them invisible when they existed all along?

Transgender people are not ‘strange’ to our society. If we trace back our history, we have stories of transgender people who were accepted and respected for who they are, like every human. We have stories of epic characters like Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was a transman and King Ila who was genderfluid.

We have idols that we worship like Ardhanarishvara and ironically we loathe their existence. Transgender people were mentioned in an ancient Tamil literature Tholkaapiyam that dates back to the 5th century and yet, we see them as trespassers on our ‘supposedly-conserved’ culture. Many other such facts and ironies intertwine to form a loop that takes us up back to our history when transgender people were looted of their identity. Under British rule, they passed the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871, and though it was directed at the tribal community, a man dressed as a female was liable to be punished too. And that was the birthplace of the ugly journey that we are witnessing now.

Image source: Collegetimes/Facebook

Coming back to present-day India, a bill on transgender rights was passed on November 26 that is being continuously slammed by the community. The ‘progressive‘ part of the bill is that an individual can self-identify themselves as a transgender person irrespective of sex reassignment surgery, and provides for the formation of the National Council for Transgender persons. But, the Protection of Rights bill contradicts itself at its very core.

Firstly, the bill requires an individual to go up to a District Magistrate and get ‘certified’ for their identity as a transgender. Then, they will have to get a revised certificate from a doctor and District magistrate after their sex reassignment surgery which inexplicitly makes the surgery mandatory. How is it morally good to put an individual’s identity up for discussion?

Secondly, anyone causing any physical abuse or sexual abuse to a transgender person will be liable to a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of two years imprisonment, while the penalty for the same crime in the case of a cis-woman will attract a minimum of 7 years of imprisonment.

Thirdly, except for the already existing 2% reservation for transgender people in educational institutions and government jobs, the bill failed to bring in amends to make it fair for the community. In no way is it trying to empower them.

Fourthly, the bill bars young trans people from leaving abusive households to thrive in a trans-community center. We are well aware of how in our society many homes become hostile and abusive towards transgender people or queer people (or even women). Now, transgender people will need a court order that will either send them back to stay with their bigoted family or send them to a ‘rehabilitation center’.

I can’t decide which one is worse, your mom constantly telling you that you’re a shame or your doctor prescribing medicines for an ‘illness’ you don’t even have. If you look it up in the dictionary, ‘rehabilitation’ is defined as “the action of restoring health or normal life through training after imprisonment, addiction or illness.” Say no more!

Fifth, adding intersex people under the transgender definition is very disturbing. They are individuals who are born with anatomical and chromosomal abnormality which is very far away from being transgender.

Image source: Grace Banu/Facebook

Sixth is that the Protection of Rights Bill, not a law, did not revise the reservation quota after the Supreme Court judgment in the year 2014, to treat all the transgender people as ‘socially backward classes‘ irrespective of their community. That means, transgender people under the General category can avail reservations under the OBC category but it also means that the transgender people from Dalit and Adivasi communities are at the disadvantage.

Besides that, the bill (now a law) did not mention any healthcare benefits for the community, or measures for proper protection from the discrimination and verbal abuse that is inflicted upon them.

Image source: Devesh Khatu/Facebook

The Protection of Rights bill that recieved assent from the President is unfortunately inclined more towards the opposite of protection that frightens the future of the trans community. However, I believe that a virtuous society can protect our fellow beings until a socially unbiased law is formed.

A transgender person can thrive if only we cast aside our judgments, if only we don’t take their human rights for granted. A transgender person would be respected if only our curiosity about their genitals subsides, if only we had started a conversation with a warm smile.

A transgender person would find love if only our children were taught about nuances of gender identity and sex reassignment at schools.

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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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