THE WAY WE ARE
The transgender bill is a boost for the community, but concerns remain
Meera Parida, the current mahamandaleshwar of the Kinnar Akhara, has come a long way from the shy child she was while growing up in Begunia in Khorda district of Odisha. She is now a transgender leader, social activist and, as of April this year, the vice-president of the women’s wing of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD). “Politics can be a major platform for social service,” says Parida. “Through it, we can now better serve the community as well as other people. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is my idol. He gave me membership and a position in the party, he has opened the way to progress.”
The passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 by the Lok Sabha on August 5 was cause for celebration for Parida and her community. As soon as the bill was approved, they convened a meeting in Bhubaneswar to discuss its provisions. Parida was also part of the delegation that met Union social justice minister
Thaawarchand Gehlot to give their suggestions on the bill.
The bill, apart from defining the phrase ‘transgender person’ and prohibiting discrimination, also gives transgenders the right to a ‘self-perceived’ gender identity. A National Council for Transgender (NCT) persons will be formed to exercise the provisions of the bill.
“With this bill, the government has given a neglected community a better chance at life. It takes us one step closer to an egalitarian society,” says Jagadananda, founder of the NGO, Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), in Bhubaneswar. He feels Odisha has done well in furthering the community’s cause. “The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) even had a eunuch, Kajal Kinnar Nayak, as its candidate in the Korei assembly constituency. All this indicates that society has started accepting them.”
But the bill has its share of critics too. A section of transgender activists says it is more of a publicity stunt by the ruling BJP at the Centre, an attempt to appear inclusive rather than actually empower the community. They point out that of the 22 members who discussed the bill, 15 were from the BJP or its allies. The remaining seven, who suggested amendments, were largely ignored. The bill is now pending in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP does not have a majority.
Community life has always been important for transgenders, which is why some are protesting a provision in the bill that says while every transgender has the right to reside in the household of a parent/ immediate family member and not be discriminated against, in case such guardians are unavailable, “the competent court shall direct such person to be placed in a rehabilitation centre”. This sounds more like a threat, it’s like saying they will be sent to jail, they say.
Most of the eunuchs in Bhubaneswar migrated here from rural areas to find community and escape harassment. The bill also criminalises the act of begging, showcasing the government’s ignorance about cultural practices like badhai and mangti within the community. This is especially unfair since transpeople still face discrimination as far as employment and education opportunities are considered.
CRITICS OF THE BILL SAY IT IS MORE A BJP PUBLICITY STUNT THAN AN ATTEMPT TO EMPOWER THE TRANSGENDERS
TWO CHEERS Transgender activists from Odisha with Meera Parida (seated, third from right) after the LS passed the bill