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NEW DELHI -- Last week, as the Indian Parliament passed a bill for the protection of transgender people, thousands of LGBTQ community members protested in the latest battle for gay and transgender rights in the country.

The legislation prohibits discrimination and criminalizes physical abuse against the transgender community, but it has been rejected by the people it seeks to protect. The bill is to become law after it receives the president's assent.

"It is not just problematic but regressive," said Grace Banu, founder of the Trans Rights Now Collective. "The community has opposed it from the beginning."

The activists' demand was for comprehensive anti-atrocities and anti-discrimination legislation that would be able to uphold equal access to civil rights. But they say the bill's discrimination clause is not clearly defined, which means the measure will have no teeth. It also does not explicitly state common forms of discrimination in employment, education and housing.

The penalty for sexual violence mentioned in the bill is lower than for such crimes against women, and the legislation does not define specific forms of physical, sexual abuse that transgender people face, activists said.

Coming in the wake of a slew of court judgments that supported the LGBTQ community, the provisions of the bill are seen by some as a setback in the struggle for gender rights. In 2014, the Supreme Court recognized the right of self-determination of gender identity for the transgender community, acknowledging the need for affirmative action as well. Last year, the court decriminalized gay sex, overturning a 157-year-old colonial law.

After criticism, the first iteration of the bill, introduced in 2016, was not approved by lawmakers. But activists say the needs of the community still have not been reflected in the current legislation. While there is no accurate estimate of the number of transgender people in the country, the 2011 census put the population at nearly half a million.

The biggest cause for concern among community members is that, under the legislation, they would have to apply to local government officials to get identity certificates.

"This is in contradiction of the right to self-determination mandated by the court," said Vihaan Vee, a 23-year-old who identifies as a transgender man.

Moreover, this identity certificate would only identify people as transgender, not as male or female, unless the person has undergone sex-reassignment surgery and can provide proof. Vee said he wants to be identified as a male, not as transgender. But without surgery, that would not be possible under the new legislation.

"This is almost like forcing our bodies into surgery," he said.

For many like Vee, surgery is prohibitively costly and difficult to access. The activists' demand to make sex-reassignment surgery free or far less costly is not mentioned in the bill.

For Banu, the noninclusion of affirmative action for the transgender community, which exists in India in education and government jobs for historically marginalized communities, marks an institutional failure.

Another part of the bill being protested is a clause that seemingly pushes transgender people to reside with their biological families or be moved to rehabilitation homes. Vee, who ran away from home two years ago, said the family home is often the first site of violence for transgender people.

The "trans community has alternate family structures where people stay together," he said. "This is an attack on that."

A Section on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Transgender-rights bill angers activists

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