It's time to protect transgenders' rights

A pre-legislative consultation meeting on the proposed Rights of Transgender Persons Bill that drew on expertise and experiences of multiple stakeholders has thrown up some suggestions that merit attention. These include setting up of welfare boards for transgenders at the national and state levels to monitor implementation of the law and act as a grievance redressal mechanism. Participants drew attention to the discrimination, even ostracism that transgenders suffer at home, school, the workplace and the community. They stressed the need for steps to create social awareness about transgenders. An important issue that came up during the consultations was the sexual violence and abuse that transgenders suffer. Although transgenders are often victims of molestation and rape, they cannot hope for justice as Indian laws recognise only women to be victims of sexual violence. Since sexual violence against transgenders is not a crime under existing laws, it leaves transgenders and sexual minorities vulnerable to violence as perpetrators know they can get away unpunished. India’s laws must be amended immediately to ensure that transgender victims of violence can turn to the courts to seek justice.

There are serious flaws in the proposed legislation. For one, individuals will be issued identity cards stating their transgender identity based on the recommendations of a screening committee consisting of experts, including government officials, medical experts, social workers and members of the transgender community. However, it is for the individual, not for an expert committee, to determine whether or not s/he is a transgender. It is the individual’s gender that must determine identity. Importantly,
the proposed legislation must ensure that transgenders are not subjected to forced ‘conversion’ therapies, involuntary treatment, forced genital and anal examinations, etc.

India has taken several steps in recent years to recognise the rights of transgenders. In April 2014, the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling, recognised transgenders as a legal third gender. Not only are they granted all fundamental rights but they also enjoy special benefits in education and employment. However, much of these rights remain on paper. On the ground, life for transgenders remains difficult. The ridicule and isolation that is heaped on them forces many transgenders to take their lives. Hence, the government and civil society must work together to ensure the full social and economic inclusion of transgenders. A strong legislation that protects transgender rights is a necessary first step. Such a law will be possible only if those framing its text look at issues with sensitivity. Ridicule of transgenders in movies and advertisements must not be permitted.
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