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India Gets Another Chance Protecting Transgender Rights

Revised Legislation Would Secure Legal Recognition

Participants hold placards during a protest demanding an end to what they say is discrimination and violence against the transgender community, in Bengaluru, India October 21, 2016. © 2016 Reuters
The Indian government will introduce a revised Transgender Persons Bill in the session of parliament beginning March 5. The legislation promises to enshrine the hard-fought battle for legal recognition and access to social services for India’s transgender community – rights long denied.

An earlier draft of the bill, introduced in 2016, mandated an “expert evaluation” for transgender people who wanted to be legally recognized according to their gender identity and offered an inaccurate and stigmatizing definition of “transgender.” Indian transgender communities, as well as Human Rights Watch, flagged concerns over the draft law.

A parliamentary committee report released in July 2017 criticized these provisions, and called for improvements. “While there is no shame in being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex or even straight, there is most certainly shame and dishonor in being a homophobe, a transphobe and a bigot,” said Ramesh Bais, a member of parliament from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who chaired the committee.

Reports indicate that the new version allows for legal gender recognition – or that the gender appearing on a transgender person’s official documents and registers will be based on self-identification only. This removes a significant barrier toward realizing basic human rights. The absence of legal recognition erodes protection from violence and discrimination and can facilitate frequent abuse from law enforcement officers and other authorities.

The Transgender Persons Bill resulted from the 2014 Supreme Court judgment in NALSA v. India, which ruled that transgender people should be legally recognized according to their gender identity, enjoy all fundamental rights, and receive special benefits in education and employment.

Parliament now has a second chance to get this overdue piece of legislation right, and respect the fundamental rights of a long-neglected and marginalized minority. Any new law should be in line with the provisions laid down in the NALSA judgment, India’s constitutional guarantees, and international standards.

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