The union cabinet, headed by Narendra Modi, provided its seal of approval to Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 on 19th July 2016. By way of passing this bill, Indian government is attempting to bring about a mechanism that can empower them in critical areas of life such as social life, educational capability, and economic freedom. It is expected that the bill will help the transgender individuals of India, to the extent of addressing the stigma attached with such people in our country. It is also expected to reduce the abusive and discriminatory attitude generally accorded to members of the third gender. More importantly, they are supposed to make them part of the mainstream – something that they may have been aspiring to for a long time.
Indian government believes that as a result of Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 being passed, transgender individuals will experience a greater level of inclusiveness in the society around them and become productive contributors to the society that they live in. The bill is also supposed to make each and every stakeholder in India sit up and make sure that the principles enshrined in the bill are properly adhered to. This is especially applicable for the national government, state governments, and administrative bodies in union territories to look into issues pertaining to transgender individuals with a greater degree of seriousness and more attention.
Status of transgender individuals in India
Transgender people happen to be one of the most ostracized sections of India, forever living on the periphery. The main reason for that is the fact that they cannot be categorized into the typical gender divisions of men and women. This is also the reason that they face social exclusion and are mostly discriminated against. They are unable to access educational facilities, remain unemployed and have to resort to begging, and are not always able to use medical facilities available to conventionally-normal people.
While drafting the bill the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the law ministry had to sort out a number of issues. They discussed issues like forcible displacement of these people from their immediate communities by members of the same community. They also talked on issues like how these people were forced to beg or perform bonded labour.
Private member’s bill on transgender individuals
It was almost a year back that Rajya Sabha had sanctioned a private member’s bill – The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014 – that dealt with rights that transgender people should enjoy. Tiruchi Siva, an MP from DMK, had moved the bill during 2015. At that time it was without a precedent and this particular bill could very well be regarded as the precursor to Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016, especially considering the fact that the new bill has been modeled on the same. The social justice ministry has drafted the new bill. In fact, this was the first time in 4 decades that such a bill had been passed in the upper house of Indian legislature.
Punitive measures as per the bill
As has been stated in the said bill if any individual is found harassing transgender individuals then he will be sentenced to a jail term of six months. The maximum punishment in this case could go up to a couple of years.
According to the bill, there is a proposal that transgender individuals be included in OBC (other backward classes) category. However, this should only be applicable in case they are not listed as ST (scheduled tribe) or SC (scheduled caste).
Status of third gender
It was in April 2014 that the apex judicial body of India – Supreme Court – had awarded the status of third gender to transgender individuals. This was done after National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) had filed a petition to that effect. Thanks to the decision, every identity document such as birth certificates, ration cards, passports, and driving licenses were bound by law to register the third gender. This also made it legal for them to marry and divorce each other, adopt children, and have rights to succession, inheritance, and related benefits.
In a ruling earlier this month, Supreme Court had stated quite clearly that the NALSA judgment will not be applicable to lesbians, bisexuals, and gays since they cannot be regarded as parts of the third gender community.