India: Revised trans rights bill presented after backlash

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Transgenders at a protest against the passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, in New Delhi, December 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

India’s government on Friday presented a revised version of its transgender rights bill to parliament, after criticism from the country’s vibrant transgender community, who said sections of an earlier version would violate their rights.

India’s Supreme Court officially recognised trans people as a third gender, with equal rights under the law in 2014, but they are often shunned and many survive through begging or sex work.

The bill aims to protect them from discrimination in education, employment, healthcare and in renting or buying property, while making the government and its agencies more accountable to uphold their rights.

If approved, it would allow trans people to change their gender on legal documents without having to go through a “screening committee” of experts, a requirement in the earlier version.

The government has also removed a section in the bill that would have made begging by transgender people a crime, punishable by up to two years in jail after some campaigners said it could be misused.

Transgender rights campaigners welcomed those changes, but remained broadly critical of the bill.

“It is a less dangerous bill than before but it continues to have extremely problematic provisions,” activist Karthik Bittu Kondaiah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For example, Kondaiah said, the latest bill still proposes much lower punishment for attacks against transgender people than for similar offences against women.

The previous legislation was passed in December by India’s lower house of parliament – where the ruling party holds a majority – but lapsed after it did not clear the upper house.

Anindya Hajra, a transgender woman and activist at Pratyay Gender Trust, expressed disappointment that the revised bill did not introduce job and education quotas for the community.

“We are extremely disappointed,” Hajra said. “We are obviously going to fight this tooth and nail.”

-Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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