Indian Parliament passes bill that criminalizes transgender people

5 min readDec 20, 2018

“We need protection from this bill!”~ India’s trans community

On Dec 17, 2018, the lower house of Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha, passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, with 27 amendments to its previous version. Transgender, intersex and gender non confirming communities from across the country and their allies have opposed this amended bill, which, they say, apart from an improved definition of the term transgender, continues to be unacceptable and needs to be redrafted or withdrawn.

Smashboard spoke to Gee Imaan Semmalar, working group member of Sampoorna India

It’s called “the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016”. What is the bill protecting or enabling, according to you?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: This is the biggest irony. That a bill that claims to protect, in fact doesn’t do that, but instead goes to the other extreme of criminalizing already marginalised trans communities. I believe that the bill enables caste supremacist transphobia and structural exclusions to continue and even aggravates the possibility of police/state violence against trans communities.

The bill has 27 amendments- this gives the impression that since its first introduction two years ago, some demands of the transgender activists have been included. But isn’t that a falsehood?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: Most of the 27 amendments if you see them, are just cosmetic changes in terminology used. Trans led groups have sent written recommendations for various draft versions of the bill, organised multi-city protests, lobbied with political parties and conducted in-person depositions before the parliamentary standing committee with regard to the bill and issues in it. Yet, almost all of the recommendations of trans led groups have been rejected or not taken into account . The only significant change from the earlier version is a more appropriate definition of a transgender person being included in this version.

The bill provides for a jail term for 6 months to 2 years for anyone who “compels or entices a transgender person to indulge in the act of begging”. Why is this supposed “protection” from begging disastrous for many transgender people in India?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: The bill is completely silent on alternate livelihood options and the issue of reservations in employment. In the face of immense structural barriers to employment that trans people face and the widespread discrimination in workplaces, begging remains one of the few occupations available to trans women/Hijra communities. By making an already vulnerable occupation more risky by criminalising it , and not providing any other alternative options the govt has done a great injustice with this bill.

The definition of transgender as it exists in the bill seems to have evolved from the older proposed definition. In what way is the present definition lacking?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: The present definition is definitely an improvement on the earlier version. It is lacking in the sense that it only defines trans people in terms of a “lack”. The lack in this case being a mismatch with the assigned gender. It doesn’t really define us in positive terms or in terms of an identity we assert instead of the assignation. It also conflates trans and intersex identities without talking about the overlaps and differences.

Tell us why self identifcation is important and how it’s being undermined? Also tell us about gender dysphoria and how taking away agency from transgender people is going to make them even more vulnerable.

Gee Imaan Semmalar: Self identification of gender has international precedents in many countries and was also granted by the nalsa supreme court judgement. However, the bill, inspite of strong criticisms, has retained the district screening committees as authorities for determining whether or not, a person is transgender. The district magistrate will refer to the recommendation of the district screening committee to give a certificate that the person is trans. If a person wants to change their gender to male or female, they have to undergo surgery and provide proof of the same for this certificate to be revised by the district magistrate. This is in violation of not just the apex court judgement but also our right to bodily integrity, dignity and autonomy granted under the right to life in the constitution. Needless to say, the procedure is bound to be violative and extremely bureaucratic.

Another provision of the bill is that when the family of a transgender person is “unable to take care” of them then they should be sent to care centres. This is both infantilizing and dangerous. Tell us how?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: The bill says “Where any parent or a member of his immediate family is unable to take care of a transgender, the competent court shall by an order direct such person to be placed in rehabilitation centre”. This clearly shows that the bill is least interested in ensuring a holistic and nurturing environment for a trans person to live without discrimination and is only too keen to pathologise us as people who require “rehabilitation” . “Rehabilitation” for what? From what?

Many demands made by transgender activists were disregarded. Reservation for example?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: Yes. The NALSA supreme court judgement clearly said that trans people can be considered socially and economically backward and affirmative action must be provided. Four years after the judgment there is still no talk of reservations in this bill or outside of it. We had also asked for reservations within reservations to ensure those already marginalised by caste get precedence in the affirmative action policy for trans people.

What do transgender people of India need most today?

Gee Imaan Semmalar: Transgender people of India need the Rajya Sabha members to send this bill back for revisions in accordance with the multiple recommendations made by trans led groups over the last two years. We, in fact , ironically, need protection FROM this bill.





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