On August 5th, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha. Yet there is clear distress within the queer community since its passing. The unrest rises from the regressive attitude of the lawmakers in viewing and understanding the transgender community.
Transgender describes a person who does not correspond to their assigned gender at birth and prefers a different gender identity. Non binary, gender fluid and agender identities are included in this category.
Few of the issues that show the lack of progressive thought in creating the Bill are:
- Less stringent laws for crimes against the transgender community; maximum two years imprisonment is too less for serious injury to human life and no compensation for the survivors of violent attacks
- The vague definition of ‘family’- does chosen family count as one in the eyes of the law?
- Only 5 members are from the transgender community, out of 30 members in the proposed National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP).
The lack of input taken from the transgender community leads to a serious question – who is it really for? The increasing number of protests and voices against this Bill has garnered a steady discussion of whether government bodies can be allowed to govern our bodies.
Talking about the passing of the Bill by the Lok Sabha, Ayeesha* a transwoman from Bangalore asks, “what kind of a protection Bill is it if the community feels humiliated and persecuted by it? The Bill seems more for the government than for the people.” She adds, “the government thinks that they are doing things that are progressive for our community, but at worst it is another way to rein in and institutionally subdue another section of the citizenry”.
Although societal norms remain largely conservative in Sikkim, there is more visibility and inclusion in the last few years with events like the first Pride Parade and TedX talk introducing people under the LGBTQ+ banner to share their stories.
Introduction and exchange of ideas by students from the state who live in metropolitan cities and engage with more open ideas of sexual and gender identities, along with the rapid growth of information being consumed through smartphones is another important reason that these events can take place.
In the light of these events, it must be highlighted that the Election Commission of Sikkim in a press conference had listed two transgender people as registered voters. But just before the election it was informed that there were no such people on the voter list.
Under the Sikkim Payment of Grant to the Transgender Rules 2013, the children of people from the transgender community are entitled to:
a) A monthly allowance of Rs. 2000 for the initial period for 6 years.
b) 100% sponsorship of the education till graduation level.
c) A monthly allowance of Rs. 500 in case the incumbent could not continue the school and college education or remains unemployed after completion of school or college education.
Till date, no beneficiaries have surfaced to claim their rightful support.
The lack of NGOs in Sikkim that actively seek to help the queer community is a huge setback since this reduces visibility of all the persons who identify themselves with any of the terms under the banner of LGBTQ+. The general heteronormative structures that have been in place for ages curb the community from speaking out.
Official statements say that the Transgender Bill mitigates stigma and benefits the transgender community, yet in saying so it fails to notice how passing laws without proper consultation via communication with the queer community does more harm than good. The voices against the authority that passes such a controversial Bill cannot be quelled easily unless the needs of minorities are properly heard and understood.
Even though there were two main changes made to the Bill, namely, removing District Screening Committees and decriminalisation of begging, the former is rendered useless because there is still the presence of a District Magistrate (DM) from whom individuals must issue a certificate to avail their rights. Only when the DM is “satisfied with the correctness of such certificate, issue a certificate indicating a change in gender in such form and manner and within such time, as may be prescribed”, can individuals be recognised as transgender.
Chapter III 4(2) states that “A person recognised as transgender under sub-section (1) shall have a right to self-perceived gender identity.” But with the DM’s presence, this “self-perceived identity” is pointless since, in the end, the government wants trans people to fit into fixed gender binaries.
A student from the hills and cis lesbian, Tenzing* feels that it infringes on the transgender community’s right to self-identification and the magistrate in charge of deciding whether a person is trans or not certainly isn’t qualified for that.
“The fact that they’ll have to go through the whole ordeal of lengthy legal procedures just to get their gender change is another challenging burden. Plus it becomes super easy for the magistrates to simply dismiss applications considering the unreliable and questionable judiciary that we have in India,” says Tenzing.
With such an important discussion rippling through the country in various intensities, it is relevant to wonder where Sikkim stands on the issue. Are we as a community still stereotyping and shunning people who do not conform to patriarchal, heteronormative ideals?
Despite a transgender panel being set up in Sikkim, there are no claimants to the seat. Is this non-existence because the people want to keep their identities private, in fear that they might be ridiculed or worse, in fear of violence?
*Names changed to protect identity