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.
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.
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.
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.