The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 fails to protect the human rights of transgender people as guaranteed under the Indian constitution and international law and standards and must not be passed in its present form by the Rajya Sabha.
The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on 17 December, 2018. The next step in order for the Bill to progress is for the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) to pass it.
The ICJ considers this Bill to be a missed opportunity to address the serious problem of discrimination against transgender people in India. The ICJ calls for the rejection of its problematic parts by the Rajya Sabha and for the elaboration of a revised Bill in line with rights upheld by the Indian Supreme Court and India’s obligations under international law.
The 2018 Bill, if adopted, would effectively deny to most transgender people their right to self-identification, by providing an overly complex bureaucratic procedure requiring an individual’s application for a transgender certificate to be approved by two different sets of authorities, despite earlier widespread condemnation of this process by the transgender community.
“As the ICJ reported in 2017, the transgender community is continually harassed, stigmatized, and abused by the police, judges, their family and society. This Bill, if it becomes law would further serve to facilitate and compound human rights violations against people from a marginalized community”, said Ian Seiderman, Legal and Policy Director at the ICJ.
The Bill has also introduced mandatory sex reassignment surgery for those transgender people who seek to identify their gender within the binary (male/female) framework. This requirement would be in contravention of the Supreme Court’s judgment in NALSA v. UOI, which guarantees the right to self-identification without the need for medical intervention.
Further, the Bill would collapse all offences against transgender people into one provision which includes offences ranging from “sexual abuse” and “physical abuse”, to “compel[ing] or entice[ing] a transgender person to indulge in the act of begging” among others. These crimes have not been defined in the Bill.
It also would provide for the same six-month to two-year sentence for all offences against transgender people. In some cases, this could be a significantly lighter sentence than when the same crime is committed against others, including discriminated groups such as cis-gendered women, under the general criminal law. In addition, the identification of “beggary” as an offence under the Bill is problematic since for many transgender people in the country, it remains one of the limited livelihood opportunities.
Further, the Bill does not address the question of reservations in employment and education despite specific directions by the Supreme Court in NALSA v. UOI.
Lastly, while the proposed law guarantees the right to non-discrimination to transgender people against persons, state and private sector bodies, it does not provide a definition of discrimination, nor does it provide an enforcement mechanism for ensuring transgender people’s right to non-discrimination.
The ICJ calls on the Rajya Sabha to substantially revise the problematic provisions of the Bill before resubmitting it for parliamentary consideration.
The provisions identified above do not accord with protection of the rights of transgender people to equality, non-discrimination, equal protection of the law, enshrined in the Constitution and international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979. Further, they are incompatible with international standards such as the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ICJ, as part of SAATHII Vistaara Coalition, earlier this year drafted a Briefing Paper on India: Legal and Jurisprudential Developments on Transgender Rights, SAATHII Vistaara Coalition. The paper analyses in detail the domestic judicial developments on transgender rights as well as the legislative process undertaken until the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 was passed on 17 December 2018.
Additional Reading Material
- ICJ Briefing Paper on The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, analyzes the 2016 Bill, its shortcomings, and India’s international obligations, as it is the basis of the 2018 Bill.
- ICJ Briefing Paper on Implementation of NALSA Judgment discusses the 2014 April NALSA decision that affirmed that transgender people have the right to decide their self-identified gender. The paper analyses the responsibilities placed on Indian authorities, gaps in implementation, and India’s relevant international law obligations.
Maitreyi Gupta (Delhi), ICJ International Legal Advisor for India
e: maitreyi.gupta(a)icj.org, t: +91 7756028369