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Controversial bill re-enters India’s lower house and trans groups aren’t happy

Controversial bill re-enters India’s lower house and trans groups aren’t happy

Protesters gather to condemn India's trans bill (Photo: Twitter)

A controversial bill that has been the center of a push and pull between lawmakers and trans activists has re-entered India’s Lower House of parliament.

Cabinet ministers have pushed ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019’ for months.

But trans groups pushed back, forcing cabinet ministers to make crucial changes to a bill that they argue does more to restrict than aid.

Now, trans groups waited with bated breath as councillors at the Lok Sabha tabled the bill -imminently set to be debated at the Upper Rajya Sabha- but it was adjourned until 11am on Monday due to opposition from ministers.

What’s going on?

Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot introduced the bill into the lower house today at around 3pm, according to parliamentary records.

Minister of State for Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh will consider the bill. If passed, it will swap into the hands of upper house councillors for further consideration.

But parliament records show that both houses were adjourned until 11am on Monday. Leaving the fate of the bill in the unknown.

According to records, Congress party member Shashi Tharoor wanted to oppose  the measure. But he was unable to voice this as a bulk of his party were protesting over the issue of Karnataka.

As a result, Congress walked out of proceedings.

The draft bill without any new amendments was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, sources in the ministry said.

Trans Rights Bill: Background

India recognized trans as a third gender in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2014. The ruling guaranteed them the fundamental rights enshrined in India’s constitution.

But, trans people remain marginalized and at risk of abuse.

A bill to tackle this has been in the political pipeline since 2015. But last year, India’s Cabinet formally drafted the trans bill, which lawmakers in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house, passed in December.

According to a draft of the bill seen by the Lok Sabha, the bill aims ‘to provide for protection of rights of transgender persons and their welfare.’

But the trans community have labled it a ‘travesty of justice’ and a ‘burial of rights.’

For example, the legislation will force them to seek approval before a ‘screening committee’ before changing gender.

Moreover, the bill enshrines little to no protections to trans people in public spaces or in the workplace.

Why are trans groups opposed to the bill?

During the preliminary talks of the bill, local trans and intersex group Sampoorna were instrumental.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (the group that first pitched the bill) received feedback from the group during the early stages in 2016.

Three years on, and the group wrote in a statement today to Gay Star News their opposition to the bill. Arguing that the bill is in conflict with the 2014 Supreme Court judgement.

The group looks towards several contentious clauses in the draft. Such as how the bill ‘continues to conflate the intersex persons as transgender’ and how it is ‘silent’ on better education around trans issues.

Furthermore, the group take aim with how the bill will introduce ‘lesser punishments’ for those charged for transphobic hate crimes.

After pressure from groups such as Sampoorna, the Union Council of Ministers of India did remove some problematic provisions this week. But trans groups remain nervous.

While cabinet minister caved in under pressure to remove a contended provision of the bill that would have banned trans folk from begging, the bill still proves problematic to many.

The begging provision was originally introduce by the previous BJP government. But the bill lapsed, leading to it re-entering consideration among parliament.

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