A day after the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 was passed in the Rajya Sabha, members of the trans community gathered to express their discontent at a press event in Mumbai on Wednesday.
The event was jointly organised by LABIA — A Queer Feminist LBT Collective; Thane Queer Collective and Forum Against Oppression of Women; People’s Union of Civil Liberties; and Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan, Mumbai. “The criminalisation of transgender people for begging and denying [them] opportunities in education and healthcare is similar to socially controlling them,” said Rachana Mudraboyina, a trans activist and member of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti.
“The checking and verifying of our identities is done under the guise of the government trying to help us from anyone who could pose as a transgender and rob our rights and reservations. But I do not think that has practical implications. The only reason there is such an inclusion in the Bill is to check and verify until those in power are convinced of how we look physically. There is a lack of awareness that being transgender may or may not have anything to do with physical features. There is a difference between an intersexual person and a transgender person,” they said.
Chayanika Shah, a women’s rights activist and member of LABIA, said the Rajya Sabha debate on November 26 was very different from the discourse in 2016 regarding the Bill. The MPs have been sensitised since the Bill was initially introduced by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Tiruchi Siva in 2014. “However India’s transgender [people] have to submit to a certification process involving a government official and a doctor,” said Ms. Shah. “This makes the government look like a surveillance board or like a patriarchal entity that tells you they know you better than you know yourself. It is entirely autocratic to look at someone’s body and decide who they are.”
Mridul, a trans activist and another LABIA member, added how the examination of one’s gender identity is very discriminatory and conflicts with a person’s sense of self-determination and image. “The reason I do not stand by the Bill is [because] it is not considerate of the lived realities of the transgender folk. Self identification is an individual choice,” they said. “Also, the Bill was only passed on to a standing committee not a select committee which was recommended by nationwide transgender communities after the Lok Sabha passed it on August 5, 2019.”
Though the implications and magnitude of the Bill might pale in the next few days, the trans community has to return to the lives they’ve been leading without any change. Mridul also touched upon the reduced sentence meted out to persons convicted of gender-based crimes against trans people. “There is no reason why a person guilty of assaulting a transgender person should face a lesser prison sentence than they would face if the victim was cisgender,” said Mridul referring to the punishment clause of the Bill that provides for a maximum of two years imprisonment.
Speaking on the same Vikki Shinde, a member of Shiv Shakti Foundation said, “This Bill has the potential to break our community.” Shals Mahajan, a gender queer member of LABIA said if the government is extending citizenship to people who have been sidelined, they should be consulted at least. “[Especially] when the State is enacting a law like this after 70 years of freedom, and questioning the constitutional freedom of many.”