An effort to bring transgender persons out of the shadows is on with the Kochi Metro, followed by the Chennai Metro, hiring them in their workforce.
These steps may have been spurred by the Supreme Court’s judgment on April 15, 2014 in the National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India case, in which it asked the government to take steps for the welfare of transgender persons and to treat them as a third gender for the purpose of safeguarding their fundamental rights.
But the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 is still pending in Parliament. It attempts to bring the community into the mainstream. Decades after the Indian Constitution guaranteed the fundamental right to equality, freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and freedom of speech and expression, transgender persons face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, lack of medical facilities, to name a few.
The Bill seeks to define and provide recognition to transgender persons, prohibit discrimination against them, ensure inclusive education, create a statutory obligation on public and private sectors to provide them with employment and recognises their right to “self-perceived gender identity”. It also seeks to issue a certificate of identity to transgender persons, provide for a grievance redressal mechanism in establishments and to establish a National Council for Transgenders.
The Bill makes the government responsible for chalkingout welfare schemes and programmes which are “transgender sensitive, non-stigmatising and non-discriminatory”. Noting that it is a crime to push transgender persons into begging or bonded or forced labour, the Bill recognises the rights of transgender persons to live with their families, not to be excluded from such households and enjoy and use the facilities of those households in a non-discriminatory manner.
However, the Bill does not address the issue of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Further, the definition of a ‘transgender person’ is left vague. It says a transgender person is one who is “neither wholly female nor wholly male or a combination of female or male or neither female nor male and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at the time of birth, and includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations and gender-queers”. The Bill does not separately define any of these terms used, like for example, “trans-men” and “trans-women”.