By Shashank Vishwanath, Batch of 2020
Dear Cis-Person- Reading-This,
Talking about the Trans Bill hurts me, it hurts my head real bad, just like many other legal “masterpieces” that hurt hard. And I know hearing about trans people makes a good chunk of you cringe mentally. The term has troubled you, the Community knows.
But keeping my mental health crisis aside, I shall address for you Cis-Dim-Wits what the Bill actually is, why it is the way it is and why we absolutely hate it.
So here goes an attempt to try to tell you cis people of our not-so-cis issues and the Bill that you have let loose on the members of our community,
The Trans Bill, which got passed in both Houses of the Parliament, got the President’s assent and is pretty much law now, is a draconian Bill which has been vehemently rejected by the entire transgender community of India. And yet, despite tremendous opposition, we see that the Bill is now Law.
Amid the wide-spread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act the government recently rushed through the Parliament, the Trans Bill, now the Transgender Persons Protections of Rights ACT, passing the Rajya Sabha has been pretty much ignored (much like how the Trans Community and Lok Sabha massive let-down by the passage of the Trans Bill was forgotten cause of the abrogation of Section 370 that happened the same day).
Why the Country and the Legislature keeps “forgetting” its Trans People you may wonder. And the answer is a complex equation involving internalised transphobia, apathy, ignorance and the terrifying rate at which the Parliament is churning out terrible laws which strip naked one vulnerable community after another making it hard to keep track of the bills, the violations, the body count and even the date now.
Many of you might also wonder why you’re even being made to read about the Trans Bill. You’re not Trans, you’ll think. Why must you care, you may ask yourselves. Well… Allow me to elaborate, dear Cis-Person-Reading-This, you do not actually have to BE the poor vulnerable person being beaten to death by the brutality of a Government to actually be aware of and be angry about the brutality of a Government beating a poor vulnerable person to death. And the Trans Bill is just another instance of how, you, my Cis Friend, have let down yet another community blinded by privilege.
First things first, let us understand what it means to be “trans”.
If only the government knew themselves, hah.
Unlike the definition one of the Ruling Party’s ill-informed Members of Parliament gave in utmost confidence, a transgender individual is one whose perceived gender identity isn’t the same as their gender assigned to them at birth. Transgender folk are separate from the Intersex folk who are individuals born with reproductive parts of both biological sexes in varying degrees of development. Trans folk are also not the same as gender-queer individuals who happen to be more fluid with their gender identity than the colourless cis people.
All of these definitions and identities that have come into common spaces- boldly out of trunks and closest in the last few decades have also given rise to disbelievers of queer identities with their pet “What if I recognize as an Attack Helicopter” dialogue with which they hope to break reality and retain their “there are only two genders” belief, which couldn’t be farther away from the truth.
For simplicity sake, just recognize gender as a construct of society which works on a spectra, has no fixed rules of expression, can be perceived differently by different individuals and is not a function of just one’s sex organs. Gender is more than whether you dangle or leak. It is about what you perceive it to be.
And if you believe, dear Cis-Person- Reading-This, that your opinion on Queer lives is valid, that Queer lives are subject to your belief of our existence, that you can reject accepting queer people and that you have any right to poke into the business of us Queer people,honey, just know that it’s simply your internalised queerphobia coupled with your inflamed privilege speaking. Educate yourself and unlearn what society has conditioned you to think.
Coming back to the Trans Bill and why it is getting the well-deserved hate that it is, imagine, dear Cis-Person- Reading-This, getting asked to prove that your gender, prove you’re a Man or a Woman. Imagine having society refuse to acknowledge your gender identity and instead be asked to prove your claim by obtaining a certificate for the same. Feels strange, doesn’t it? This is what the biggest problem with the Trans Act is. It takes away one’s freedom and one’s bodily autonomy. The NALSA Judgement, one of the most progressive judgements in the Supreme Court history, gave Trans individuals the freedom, the right to freely choose their perceived gender over the one assigned at birth without having to prove it. Yet the government’s Act infringes upon this freedom that the apex court gave trans persons. The Act demands individuals recognizing as trans to prove their “authenticity” as trans people to the District Magistrate, prove to the magistrate that they are indeed trans and obtain a certificate of being what they ARE. The Government expects trans folk to have their naked bodies “checked” by the Magistrate, possibly a male, and this step is no guarantee that the DM would even care to certify a Trans person as Trans. This infringement upon the privacy and bodily autonomy of Trans people is terrifying and very bigoted of those who drafted such a Law.
The Bill has no provisions to help provide trans individuals with the required health care, no subsidies for health care expenses and transformations, also against the guidelines laid down by the NALSA Judgement.
Another extremely questionable, morally messed up and bigoted element of the Bill is the part that deals with crimes against Trans folk and penalties for those crimes.
Sexual assault and rape against cis-gendered women, according to Indian Law, could land the perpetrator a minimum punishment of seven years in jail with also a possibility of life imprisonment and death penalty. But in the case of Trans-women, the Bill goes extremely soft on perpetrators with a minimum punishment of six month and a maximum of two years. This rather wide disparity between penalties for crimes committed against Trans women goes on to prove how the Trans Bill actually dehumanises the Trans people, working, in essence, as a legal instrument to declare Trans people as less human, with their lives worth less that of their cis counterparts, one fifth less, if you would need a figure, Dear Cis-Person- Reading-This.
With the offences being bailable and the entirety of the Indian Penal Code existing in gender binaries of he and she, without accounting for the third gender which India recognises, this Act makes trans lives tougher.
Another gross way in which the Bill violates Trans autonomy and consent is Child Rights, or lack thereof. Trans people suffer most abuse and trauma from within their own homes, to escape which many of them leave home, sometimes at ages as young as eight years old. Since generations, Trangender Communities like the Hijras and Aravanis have served as refuges to run away trans individuals looking for shelter and a family to be accepted into. These communities are well established and self-sufficient with their own traditions, Guru-Chela paramparas and family hierarchies. The Bill undermines these established societal institutions and gives the courts the right to determine a foster family for the runaway trans children, which not only violates their consent as individuals, but also seeks to break the established trans communities and families that have existed for centuries in India and puts these trans children at risk of more abuse from cis foster families.
A major problem also lies in the fact that abuse is barely defined by the Bill. What constitutes as abuse to trans people is unclear and hence the Bill is pretty pointless in terms of tackling harassment and abuse to which trans individuals are very vulnerable.
To give Trans folk some representation in politics and governance, the Bill does seek to create a national council for Transgender people, but the council would only have five Trans people on it and would be severly outnumber by cis folk. A council tasked with ideating on helping improve trans-lives staffed with cis folk would be an organisation that wouldn’t be able to do what it is supposed to, owing to the blinding priviledge that you Cis folk have.
Anti-begging laws, laws regulating sex-work and the recent highly controversial Human Trafficking Law coupled with rampant discrimination and selection bias make it very hard for transfolk to get employment. Heck, it makes it hard to scrape two square meals.
The NALSA Judgement’s recommendations for reservations in education and employment were also ignored by the Bill. (I know you groaned and eye-rolled at the sound of “reservation” but when a respected court recommends reservations for highly vulnerable, historically abused communities to ensure social equality, it is for a reason, wink.)
All in all, the Transgender Persons Protections of Rights Act is at best an ironically named one which doesn’t really do what it’s supposed to. The Act violates the NALSA Judgement and the guidelines laid down for providing Trans folk with medical aid, welfare, employment opportunities and a chance to live decent, dignified lives and instead subjects them to humiliation, dehumanisation, and misrepresentation.
The Bill invariably uses the term Transgender for trans people as well as Intersex persons which only worses the cause for both communities, causing invisiblisation of the Intersex folk while not addressing the real issues that are faced by the Trans folk.
Several wide-spread protests against the Bill, trending hashtags on Twitter such as “#StopTransBill2019”, letters written to the United Nations as well as the President, and an entire community literally begging for the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee of the Parliament couldn’t keep it from getting passed by the Rajya Sabha and being signed by the President. The repeated mentions of this Bill potentially doing what the Rome Statute of International Law considers genocide didn’t stop the Bill from becoming an Act.
And you, Lovely Cis-Person- Reading-This, have been impervious to the suffering of the Trans folk. You have remained as blinded by your privilege as ever, barely supporting the Community in times of desperate need. Your failure to action can only mean more blood on your privileged hands, know that. The implications of the Act on trans lives are only negative, but the Trans Community is a resilient one. The Community shall stand strong against any blow of any dictatorial, maniacal government.
Don’t you think, Cis-Shit, that the Trans Community shall fall,
The Act’ll die, not us, the Trans folk shall stand tall,
Being as fabulous as they are, above adversities, above all,
As we always have, always will.
Hear hear, if you can.
A Member of a Community You Seem Okay Screwing Over 🙂