The Rajya Sabha, upper house of India’s Parliament, voted unanimously on Friday in favor of a bill to protect the rights of transgender people.
According to media reports, the private member’s bill by DMK MP Tiruchi Siva who represents Tamil Nadu was the first member-sponsored bill to be passed since 1970.
On Friday, MPs are said to have cut across party lines to support the proposed legislation that aims to safeguard the welfare of transgender people who are known in India as the ‘third gender’.
The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014 now goes to India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, for a vote.
If it passes, it would require the government to establish a plan to safeguard the welfare of transgender people.
The bill provides for setting up of welfare boards at the Central and state levels, separate courts, two per cent reservation in government jobs and education, prohibits discrimination in employment, and access to financial aid, according to India Today.
Siva said in a New Indian Express interview, ‘Though physically fit, transgenders face discrimination at every step of their lives with no job opportunities, access to education or avenues to lead a normal life. This bill seeks to correct this and pave the way for their social acceptance.’
In a landmark judgment on April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India granted legal recognition to transgender people and affirmed that they should not be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Observers however have said that the bill should not be interpreted as a sign that India’s politicians were warming to gay rights.
In 2013, India’s top court upheld a law which criminalizes gay sex.
India has long-established communities of transgender women known as hijras who are hired to perform at rituals including dancing at weddings or blessing babies.