For the first time in 45 years, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a private member's bill to accord equal rights on transgenders.
“It is a unanimous decision of the House… This is a rare thing,” Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien announced after the bill was passed by voice vote on Friday.
The government, however, said it will bring an improved bill as DMK memebr Tiruchi Shiva’s bill has some practical difficulties.
The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, moved by Shiva, calls for equal rights and reservation to transgenders and envisages creation of a national commission and state level commissions for transgender communities.
“We all have human rights, whatever our gender identity. The bill I have presented is for an act which will create an equal society as it recognises and protects transgender persons, in all spheres of life,” Shiva said while moving the bill.
“Different countries have taken steps, why not India?” he questioned.
Later, the DMK member said: “Transgenders are as efficient as anyone else. One transgender person asked me I pay my taxes, why don’t I have the rights?”
“Imagine they have gender written as female in their I-cards, but they cannot enter women’s compartment in trains,” he said.
In the Rajya Sabha, as Shiva pushed for putting the bill to vote, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said the government was in consultation with several departments to formulate a law for the transgenders and urged him to withdraw the bill.
“Emotionally, I agree with Shiva’s bill, but there are some technical problems… There is some impracticality in the bill,” he said.
Shiva, however, remained adamant to put the bill to vote.
While an initial voice vote led to the deputy chairman believing the votes were against the bill, Shiva demanded a division for electronic voting. Leader of House Arun Jaitley intervened and said the House should be unanimous on such issues.
“I don’t think the House should be divided on this issue… This is one segment of society we all should be concerned with,” Jaitley said.
The finance minister said either Shiva should have faith in the social justice and empowerment minister and withdraw the bill, or the House should unanimously support the private member’s bill.
“My appeal to all sections would be come to a conclusion that should be a general consensus. The House should not be divided on this issue,” he said.
The bill was then put to vote and adopted unanimously through voice vote.
The transgender community was happy to get a “positive response” from all political parties as the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a private member’s bill that protects its rights.
“The bill received support from all political parties and this shows how they have become sensitive towards our issues and difficulties. I am sure it will be passed smoothly in the Lok Sabha as well,” Reshma, a transgender from Patna, said over phone.
“This is a big moment because it will allow us to have our own organisation like the National Commission for Women. We can protect the rights of our community and won’t be dependent on anyone,” Reshma added.
Mumbai-based transgender Gauri Sawant said if the bill is passed in Parliament smoothly, it will reinforce their identity in the country and help them to get rid of the stigma.
“It was our right. I am extremely happy that it (government) has recognised us as citizens of India and not as invisible entities,” Sawant said over phone.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lauded the passage of the bill.
She envisioned “more power and independence” to the transgender community with the passage of the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014.
“Tamil Nadu and Bengal have always taken the lead in transgender welfare. Educational institutions in Bengal have also recognised third gender. More power and independence to transgender community. The Bill calls for setting up of commissions at state and central level. Bengal has already set up a Transgender Development Board,” she said.
“Happy that Bengal pioneered the concept of Transgender Welfare Board on 18 March, 2015,” Banerjee said on the social networking site Twitter.
This year, universities like the Presidency University and Jadavpur University introduced separate criteria in admission forms for inclusion of the third gender.
The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, passed by the Rajya Sabha on Friday is the first private member’s bill to get the upper house’s approval in the past 45 years.
Members of parliament other than ministers are called private members and bills presented by them are known as private member’s bills.
The last Private Member’s Bill passed by parliament was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968, which became an act on August 9, 1970.
The last Lok Sabha saw 300 such bills introduced and barely four percent of them were discussed while 96 percent lapsed without even a single debate in the house.
“There were 328 such bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha and only 14 were discussed,” according to an analysis.
Here is a list of private member’s bills previously passed in parliament:
1. The Muslim Wakfs Bill, 1952: The bill was for providing better governance and administration of Muslim Wakfs and the supervision of Mutawallis’ management of them in India. The bill was introduced by Syed Mohammed Ahmed Kasmi in the Lok Sabha and passed in 1954.
2. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 1953: Introduced by Raghunath Singh in the Lok Sabha, the bill was passed in 1956. The bill aimed to empower the revisional court to stay or suspend the final orders of lower courts.
3. The Indian Registration (Amendment) Bill, 1955: This bill was moved by S.C. Samanta in the Lok Sabha and was passed in 1956. The bill aimed at removing the anomaly of recording castes and sub-castes of parties in a deed for registration, as India is a secular state.
4. The Proceedings of Legislature (Protection of Publication) Bill, 1956: Brought by Feroze Gandhi in the Lok Sabha, it was passed in 1956. It aimed to protect journalists reporting on parliament proceedings and to define by law the privilege available to publications made in good faith of reports of proceedings of legislatures.
5. The Women’s and Children’s Institutions (Licensing) Bill, 1954: Introduced by Rajmata Kamlendu Mati Shah in the Lok Sabha and passed in 1956, the bill was to regulate and license orphanages and other institutions caring for women and children under 18 years of age and to provide for the proper custody, care and training of their inmates.
6. The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Bill, 1954: The bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Raghubir Singh aimed to get certain monuments included in the list of Monuments of National Importance declared in the principal Act of 1951.
7. The Hindu Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 1956: Introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Seeta Parmanand and passed in 1956, this bill says that when both the parties belong to the Hindu religion and are marrying under the Special Marriage Act, they will be governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
8. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 1957: It was introduced by Subhadra Joshi in the Lok Sabha and passed in 1960. To remove the hardship caused to a woman in spending money on litigation when her husband commits the offence of bigamy.
9. The Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Bill, 1960: Introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Kailash Bihari Lall and passed in 1960, the bill was to provide for the supervision and control of orphanages and other charitable institutions for their better management.
10. The Marine Insurance Bill, 1959: The bill introduced by M.P. Bhargava in the Rajya Sabha and passed in 1963, this bill modified the law relating to marine insurance.
11. The Hindu Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 1962: Introduced in the Lok Sabha by Diwan Chand Sharma, the bill was passed in 1964 to make the right to apply for divorce available to both the parties in case of a decree for judicial separation or restitution of conjugal rights instead of the right being available only to the party who obtained the decree.
12. The Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 1964: Introduced by Raghunath Singh in the Lok Sabha, it was passed in 1964. It was aimed to raise the salaries and allowances of members of parliament in order to meet the high cost of living. Also to provide air travel facilities.
13. The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1967: Introduced by Diwan Chaman Lall in the Rajya Sabha and passed in 1969 it was to enable works of art to be exempted from the penal clauses in the principal Act relating to punishment for obscenity.
14. The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968: Introduced in the Lok Sabha by Anand Narian Mullah and passed in 1970 aimed to enlarge the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in regard to criminal matters.
Data source: PRS Legislative Research, Parliament of India website and Lok Sabha Secretariat. (IANS)