Mumbai students send postcards to PM opposing Transgender Persons Bill, 2016

Dec 17, 2017, 09:05 IST | Anju Maskeri

Mumbai students have launched a postcard campaign to oppose the bill, which according to them, is replete with problematic provisions that threaten the rights of the transgender community

Last week, students from the TISS Queer Collective, a semi-formal gathering of queer and queer-friendly individuals from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, found themselves in a state of panic, after they learnt that the Transgender Persons (protection of rights) Bill, 2016, is going to be tabled before Parliament in the winter session. In response, they have launched a postcard campaign to oppose the bill, which according to them, is replete with problematic provisions that threaten the rights of the transgender community. The postcards have been sent to the office of PM Narendra Modi.

College students seen signing postcards. Pic/Abhisikta Dasgupta
College students seen signing postcards. Pic/Abhisikta Dasgupta

Till now, the students have collected over 10,000 postcards by collaborating with other student groups in the city. "We started the campaign of our own accord after we found out that there has been a national call to boycott the bill. This is an effort to collectivise voices and influence policy and decision makers because the bill is regressive on many levels," says Sai Bourothu, a TISS student who is part of the collective. On Thursday, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment decided to amend the definition of the word transgender in keeping with the recommendation of the standing committee on the transgender persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016. The line "neither wholly male nor female" to describe a transgender person was removed, as per the advice of the Standing Committee. But, Bouroutho says this isn't enough. "The definition has been made broad, but still the question of the right to self-determined gender is not answered. A medical officer gets to decide whether one is transgender or not. We don't even get to decide who we are," he says. He explains that this definition fails to take into consideration the concept of gender identity, given the fact that the trans community is made of several groups like trans men, trans women, inter-sex, etc.

College students seen signing postcards. Pic/Abhisikta DasguptaSuraj Kamdar

Bourothu finds it even more puzzling that the bill doesn't take into account its own parliamentary provisions. On April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment recognising the fundamental and civil rights of transgender persons. Titled the National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India (NALSA) judgment, it was hailed as a "sincere attempt at understanding identity" (see box). "The right to self-determination of gender was given in the NALSAR judgement, but they haven't included it. This bill has been in the making for the last two years. Out of the 80 recommendations that were proposed to the government by a committee set up by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2015, only nine have been included. It's disappointing," he says.

The campaign has garnered steam across campuses with many students groups using Twitter to express their outrage. Suraj Kamdar, who is part of the Gender Issues Cell of KC College, says his team has managed to collect over 110 postcards and online signatures from the campus, including that of the college principal. "We have a couple of transgender students on campus and this is our attempt to support the community," he says.

According to Kamdar, the bill reeks of ambiguity. "On the one hand, it criminalises begging and sex work, and proposes six months to two years of imprisonment with fine, but does not offer any alternative livelihood schemes," he says. The bill also gives biological families the primal guardianship of the trans person and proposes imprisonment to any person who abets or aids the child's removal from the biological family. "It's also a reality that trans children face most violence within homes to begin with. So, if we try to get a child out of an abusive home, we will be imprisoned. Therefore, all sorts of intervention into the violence of a trans child have been cut off," says Bourothu.

He hopes that the collective indignation against the bill will make policy makers take note. "The bill is ambiguous in all its provisions, and it's a fact that ambiguity in any social protection law has never helped the marginalised."

10k No. of postcards collected by the students

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Who is a transgender?
The definition of a transgender person, according to the NALSA judgement: "Gender identity refers to each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body which may involve a freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, therefore, refers to an individual's self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category."

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