A 31-member parliamentary panel, headed by a BJP MP, has sharply criticised the draft transgender rights bill, introduced by the Centre in Lok Sabha last year and pending for approval so far.
Ramesh Bais, a seven-term Lok Sabha MP representing the Raipur constituency, who headed the report by the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, pointed out what many activists have already done before: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises “unnatural sex”, is a deterrent to transgender people from having full civil rights, including their right to marry, divorce, have a family or adopt a child.
In that sense, the reform by the Supreme Court in 2014, when it ruled in favour of the constitutionality of the third gender as a legitimate identity, was incomplete. While recommending that the State give people of the third gender a spate of welfare rights, including reservation on the basis of their gender identity, it did not fully grapple with the emotional needs of the community and didn’t challenge the constitutionality of Section 377.
The report not only mentions the lacunae in the bill but also points out that “civil rights like marriage and divorce, adoption, etc … are critical to transgender persons’ lives and reality”. In the preface, it assures the transgender community that “a historic shift is underway, you are not alone in your struggle for the end of violence and discrimination.” Calling the movement for the equal rights of the transgender population “a shared struggle”, the report categorically states that being “transgender is not an anomaly. It is part of the spectrum of people’s realities.”
The BJP-led government’s stance on sexual minorities has been, so far, mired in confusions.
When the Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the IPC in 2013 after the Delhi High Court challenged its constitutionality in 2009, it had put the onus of repealing it on the Parliament. Since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government came to power in 2014, it has failed to take any action on the draconian law.
In this situation of impasse, the parliamentary panel’s report, especially since it is headed by a veteran BJP MP, is likely to step up pressure on the government in power to reconsider its views on sexual minorities, especially since it minces no words in making its own stand clear.
“While there is no shame in being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex of even straight — there is most certainly shame and dishonour in being a homophobe, a transphobe and a bigot,” the report says, for instance.
HuffPost India recently reported a gradual shift towards transgender employees in the Indian workforce, though the road ahead remains long and rocky. There are, officially, nearly 5 lakh transgender people in the country, though unofficial estimates peg the number to close to 20 lakhs.
While the law now legitimises the existence of transgender people, many areas of bureaucratic as well as political muddle persist. These need to be addressed firmly and with clarity for the benefits of the legal provisions to trickle down to the community. Society has to be also made accountable for every small act of injustice it metes out to transgender people.
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