A Shared Agenda Behind The Trans Rights Act & Citizenship Amendment Bill?

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019 and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. These two legislations, which have been bought into Parliament this Winter Session, are rarely spoken of in the same breath. But they should be. Both these Bills have been adopted by the Parliament amidst mass protests around them. However the similarities do not end here.

Image source: PrideKolkata/Twitter.

Firstly, the Government of India claims that both the Bills are for ensuring citizenship rights for minority communities. Both of them, however, do the exact opposite.

The Transgender Rights Bill, among the many other problems that it creates for transgender persons, denies them the Right to Self Determination of their own Gender. In order to identify as Man or Woman, it mandates the need for a certificate from a Medical Official. On the basis of correctness of this by the District Magistrate, a certificate of gender will be issued to transgender persons. This means that transgender persons can no longer be legal witnesses for themselves with regard to their gender.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill has been amended to give Indian citizenship to illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. However, the communal agenda of the Bills gets clearly reflected in its exclusion of Muslims.

Secondly, both the Bills manage to pit different marginalized communities against each other. The Transgender Bill creates the narrative of people identifying as ‘fake transgender’ and taking over the limited benefits allotted to transgender people who need it. It makes certain transgender people, who have been marginalized for years, wary of the idea of self determination of gender.

Image source: Asadakur Rahman/Twitter.

The Citizenship Bill has been posed as the savior for religious minorities who have fled religious persecution from neighboring countries, many of whom may also belong to marginalized classes and castes. However, the Bill has to be understood along with a history of the Assam Accord and the current implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). For instance the Bill claims that thousands of people from the Namashudra community, who had left Bangladesh and are living in parts of West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam as agricultural labourers, will get citizenship in India. However, the Bill completely violates the tenants of the Assam Accord which was signed with the Government after decades of struggle and protests by indigenous communities. The same communities who had to bear the socio-economic burden of unaccountable immigration over a porous border. This has led to conflicts between landless agricultural labours and indigenous groups trying to protect their land and resources.

Thirdly, both the Bills want to identify and maintain the purity of family and blood ties. The Transgender Bill has been criticized constantly for pushing transgender people back into natal families who (often) are violent to them. The Bill which has become a law does it further by allowing transgender people to only change their first names, thereby forcing people to retain their last or family names. The Citizenship Amendment Bill also takes forward the agenda of the NRC which identified individuals by their bloodlines. The Citizenship Amendment Bill will now provide people citizenship status through their blood ties and religious affinity.

The final point I want to make is of Rehabilitation Centers and how both the Bills lean towards it. The Transgender Bill clearly mentions that those whose family cannot take care of them will be put into rehabilitation centers. While the Citizenship Amendment Bill doesn’t make direct reference to rehabilitation centers, the NRC which was updated in Assam and National Population Register (NPR) which will be implemented in the rest of the country will lead to the identification of lakhs of people who may not have the documents to prove themselves as citizens. Where will these people be sent, but to rehabilitation centers? There have been several instances across the world of how people in rehabilitation centers have been used as unpaid/bonded labourers by the State.

Thus, the Bills are a reflection of how the Government has been forwarding their Brahminical and feudal agenda of making bonded labourers out of marginalized groups and maintaining their hegemony through divisive techniques.

Image source: Sasha Ranganath/Twitter.

Image source: Sasha Ranganath/Twitter.

Thousands of transgender people have been rendered without citizenship through the NRC, several other have been enlisted by their dead names and do not know how it will impact them and then there are others like me are scared to change our gender identity under the circumstances because of the uncertainty of our citizenship status. One way out of this is that different groups which have been historically marginalized have to create dialogue with each other to see possibilities of solidarity. We can no longer afford to fight issues in isolation.

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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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