Why 'cis' people should join the fight against the transgender Bill

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 31, 2018 13:05 hrs
Indian transgender activists hold a candlelit vigil to mark the 'Transgender Day of Remembrance' in Hyderabad on November 20, 2015

If you don’t know what “cis” or “cisgender” means, there is a good chance you are cisgender – at birth, you were assigned the sex that matches the gender with which you identify.

And if you follow the news, you should know there was a massive protest in Delhi on December 28, while most of the country – including the Parliament – was enjoying a Christmas break. The protest was carried out by transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people, and their allies. They were protesting against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 17.

Since the Bill was passed in the lower house of Parliament, there have been protests across the country, culminating in the capital on Friday.

Why are people protesting against a Bill that purports to protect their rights?

Because it offers little by way of what transpeople actually want, and infringes on rights and reparations upheld by the Supreme Court in its landmark 2014 verdict on the NALSA vs. Union of India case.

Because, a year after the verdict, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a Private Member’s Bill submitted by MP Tiruchi Siva, drafted in consultation with representatives of the trans community and widely seen as progressive. That Bill had called for reservation in educational institutions as well as employment opportunities, the right to self-determination of gender, special fast track courts, and a Transgender Rights Commission among other things.

Because that Bill was struck down in favour of an appallingly worded Bill drafted by the central government in 2016, which conflated the term “transgender” with the pejorative “eunuch”, criminalised several means of livelihood, insisted that transpeople must remain with their natal families, posited that surgery was required for a transperson to legally change gender markers, and placed the onus of determining whether someone was trans on a screening committee.

Because the 2018 Bill does not recognise any of the rights for transpeople that cispeople have – of marriage, of adoption, of inheritance of property.

Because, despite vehement opposition to the draconian provisions of the Bill and the government’s argument that 27 amendments have been made to the 2016 Bill, the only notable change in the version that has been passed in the Lok Sabha this year is that the term “transgender” has a broader (and marginally more palatable) definition.

Because it reduces people to their bodies, and requires third-party certification even for those.

Across the world, little is known about transgenderism in the medical field, and less is taught to students of the medical profession. Even finding a psychiatrist who is sensitive and aware of transgender issues is a hard ask. There have been several reports of exploitation of transpeople by medical professionals, including sexual harassment by district screening committees in Tamil Nadu. There is little provision for redress by law.

Placing transpeople at the mercy of a screening committee that comprises doctors, bureaucrats, and a single transperson not only exposes them to humiliation and the vagaries of gate-keeping, but also to harassment and abuse on several fronts.

The Bill demands that transpeople must have undergone surgery in order to identify within the male-female binary – not every transperson desires or can afford sex reassignment surgery. This violates the provisions under the NALSA verdict.

There was an extensive period of consultation with and feedback from several organisations and individuals representing the trans community over the last two years, and yet the government appears to have paid no attention to the most urgent demands put forward by the community.

While begging and commercial sex work have been criminalised, and stringent punishments outlined, the transfeminine community has been provided with no alternative to these two traditional means of livelihood.

Though most transpeople are forced to leave home because of abuse or rejection from their natal families, the Bill insists that transpeople must remain with these families, and cannot stay with chosen families – typically, collectives of transwomen within which a hierarchy of seniority and the structure of a quasi-family are established.

In case the natal family is “unwilling” to “look after” the transperson, the latter will be sent to a “rehabilitation centre”.

What is s/he being rehabilitated from, and what will the process involve? How long will that person stay in the centre, and what happens after? The Bill does not say. It does, however, clearly state that anyone who causes a transperson to break ties with his or her natal family will be imprisoned for up to four years – thus criminalising members of the chosen family of the transperson.

Why are adult transpeople expected to stay on with their natal families when there is no such imposition on their cisgender counterparts, and when the Constitution upholds their right to live and work anywhere within the territory of India?

Also contradictory to the idea of democracy is the term of punishment for perpetrators of sexual violence against transpeople – two years, less than a third of the quantum of imprisonment for sexual violence against ciswomen.

There is no provision for separate wards in hospitals and prisons for transpeople, manned by female professionals – one of the key demands by collectives of transpeople – and no word on access to healthcare.

There is no provision for criminalisation of institutional violence or atrocities against transgender and intersex people, such as forced hormone therapy, forced marriage, forced gender conformism, or surgery on intersex children.

The trans community has been calling on the government to withdraw the Bill from consideration in the Rajya Sabha when the Parliament is reconvened after the Christmas break. Instead, they want Tiruchi Siva’s far more inclusive Bill to be passed in the Lok Sabha.

This should not be the fight of the trans community alone.

We owe it to the notion of democracy to stand up against any legislation that discriminates against a particular group of people, removing rights from them that are accessible to all other groups.

Today, that group is transpeople; and if we believe we live in a democracy, we should all care enough to join the fight against the Bill.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Five statues the government should build


Killing Nature: Where science and religion colludeWhy bother saving the tiger? 

Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com"  

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