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Why the Trans Rights Bill 2018 Sparked Protests Across India

The passing of the Trans Rights Bill, 2018 by the Lok Sabha sparked off protests across Bengaluru and New Delhi. 

Last week, members of the transgender community and activists from across the country gathered at Town Hall in Bengaluru and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest the passing of the Government of India’s Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 by the Lok Sabha and the Trafficking of Persons(Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 that was passed in the Lok Sabha.

In February 2014, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgment upholding the rights of the transgender community and affirming their right to self identify their gender. This  judgment, also known as the NALSA judgment granted reservations to transgender people in the education and employment sector.This was followed by a Private Member Bill by Tiruchi Siva, a DMK Rajya Sabha member. The  Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 or the Tiruchi Siva Bill proposed to formulate a policy to ensure overall development of the transgender community. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha but was not debated in the Lok Sabha.

Although, the NALSA judgment and The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill were very progressive and paved way for remedial measure to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 failed to retain the progressive skeletal framework. “The Tiruchi Siva bill has reservations for education and employment and the international standard definition of transgender but the BJP government’s 2016 Transgender Bill has been so regressive. It became so insensitive towards transgender people by defining them as neither man nor woman,” said a transgender activist present at the protest. This definition is contradictory to the SC’s NALSA judgment which made a sincere attempt to understand identity.

The Protection of Rights Bill proposes a screening committee where a transgender person may make an application to the District Magistrate for issuing a certificate of identity as a transgender person which has upset the transgender community. “The NALSA judgment gave us the right to identify ourselves but here we have to prove it at various steps of the screening committee starting from a Magistrate to a doctor to a social worker. At some point they wouldn’t mind to ask us to strip down and show our bodies,” said the transgender activist.

“The Transgender Bill says we can’t beg or do sex work. What has the state government or the Central government done for us transgender people? We don’t have jobs. They haven’t done anything so far. Our community has been doing this work since the beginning,” said trans woman Ashwini Rajan on the criminalizing of the begging and sex work in the Transgender Bill 2018.

“We are now thinking of lobbying with existing MPs in the Rajya Sabha to if there are any ways in which we can either get this bill referred to another select committee to rework the bill entirely based on community consultations because that is the duty of the government,” said advocate Deepta Rao present at the protest and opposed the passing of the bill in the current form.

Video by Christy Raj
Article by Kavyasri Srinath

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