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New transgender Bill diluted, says MP behind the original Bill

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 that aims for the welfare and equality of transgender people across the country. The bill is not yet in public domain.

Two years ago, however, MP Tiruchi Siva, of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), tabled a private member's Bill in parliament with little hope that it would get somewhere. The Bill was introduced after consulting various groups, communities and organisations working towards the rights of transgenders.

One year later, on 24 April 2015, the Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha - bringing much needed cheer to the transgender community. The Bill still needs to be passed by the Lok Sabha before being ratified by the President.

Since this was the first time in 45 years that a Private Member's Bill was passed by a House of the Parliament, Siva's Bill is a milestone in every way.

For Siva, it was an emotional moment - particularly because many from the transgender community thought that there would be a lot more resistance.

Siva's Bill promised, among other things, reservation in jobs, government-run educational institutions, financial aid and various programmes that aim at social inclusion.

But the man behind the much lauded Rights of Transgender Bills 2014 is quite skeptical about the new Bill.

Excerpts from the interview:

Do you believe the new draft Bill holds the same promise as the one you tables a year ago?

While I'm happy the Bill has been introduced and the government has taken cognisance of the issue, there is little to cheer for. The Bill has been substantially diluted from the one I tabled, which was far more thorough and had taken into account the needs and rights of the transgender community across the country.

How is the present Bill a diluted version?

Two fundamental aspects of the Bill seem to have been diluted. The present bill does not take reservation for employment for transgender people into account. Also, there is no mention of a statutory national commission or state level commissions.

The Bill passed by the Upper House last year talks of 2% reservation for employment for transgenders in government-run educational institutions, while government establishments were being asked to provide the same percentage of reservation in vacancies.

As far as the private sector is concerned, the Bill asks for the government to provide incentives to employers to ensure that at least 2% of their work force is comprised of transgender persons within a five-year period from the commencement of the Act.

The second aspect is the setting up of national and state-level commissions. These commissions were to monitor and gauge welfare schemes for states and union territories and ensure they are implemented. They would act in a way similar to the National Commission for Women and National Commission for Backward Classes.

The new Bill also does not heed to the demands of the Supreme Court after it recognised the third gender in 2014. The ruling granted equal rights and protection to transgender persons; inclusion of a third category in recording one's gender identity for documents such as the election card, passport, driving license and ration card; for admission in educational institutions, hospitals, access to toilets, amongst others.

The court had also stated that transgender people should have the right to self attestation. The new Bill, however, wants an 'expert committee' to decide that, which is likely to cause problems as there are many divisions among the third gender.

The previous Bill also talked about fast track courts, medical aid and pension, which the new Bill does not specify in detail.

When your Bill was tabled and discussed in the Rajya Sabha, there was considerable resistance. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the then minister of state for parliamentary affairs and Congress' PJ Kurien had requested that the Bill be withdrawn. Do you believe the new Bill conforms to their demands?

I do believe this is an attempt by the government to supersede our Bill. Or else, it wouldn't be interested in the issue. The BJP has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and the government is very strong there. I don't believe my Bill will get cleared in the Lower House, but if it does then the new Bill will have to be withdrawn.

Transgenders face total discrimination even among their own families. The bill was a silver lining, which now stands to be adulterated.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 21 July 2016, 10:30 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.