Trans activists in India disappointed by new bill

A new report on a bill about the transgender community in India has been criticized by transgender activists who call it “a big joke.” The report discusses key features of the 2016 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which the trans community has found to be misleading, inaccurate and harmful to the community it is attempting to serve.

In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court passed a progressive judgement that affirmed the right to dignity and autonomy under Article 21 of the Constitution, giving citizens the legal right to self-identify their own gender. The judgement allowed trans people to identify as male, female, or third gender, irrespective of medical processes like gender affirming surgeries or hormone therapy.

This decision was followed by the introduction of the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014, which never came to fruition. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment requested comments from the public on a second draft in in 2015. Finally, in 2016, Congress passed their final version of the bill which sought “to provide for the protection of rights of transgender persons and their welfare.”

However, the trans and intersex community responded with a statement that says the “draft bill is a massively diluted, criminalizing and pathologising text that stands on distorted premises that amount to human rights violations.”

The bill, for example, has an incorrect definition of transgender, defining trans identity as exclusively outside the binary. It also calls for a screening committee that will serve as “gatekeepers” who have the power to decide who can or cannot be transgender, which is in conflict with the Court’s ruling that allows for self-identification regardless of medical interventions. In addition, the bill often conflates transgender and intersex persons. The bill also attacks the hijra family system by insisting that trans children reside solely with their natal family, and not recognizing hijra adoptive systems as important to their well-being.

While it is important to recognize that the 2016 bill is progressive in its attempt to recognize and help the transgender community, it is based on false information and has ignored the input of actual trans people who have attempted to educate the committee on these matters.

Victory Institute is actively working to train LGBTI leaders in India to combat misinformation and fight for their rights in local and national government. In July, our trainees met with government officials in Hyderabad, India to discuss issues trans people face.