Rajya Sabha passes historic private Bill to promote transgender rights

The Indian Express, April 25, 2015

A private member?s Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha for the first time in over three decades, with MPs cutting across party lines on Friday to unanimously endorse by voice vote a proposed legislation that aims to promote the rights of transgenders, including reservations and financial aid.

However, the passage was not without its share of turbulence with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot attempting to dissuade DMK MP Tiruchi Siva from moving the Bill, saying that many issues were yet to be resolved on the subject among various ministries.

But Siva rejected Gehlot?s assurance that the government would come out with a comprehensive Bill of its own in this regard and insisted on a division of votes before Jaitley said that it would ?not be proper? if the House is divided on the rights of transgenders.

?The House should not be divided over such an issue. The honourable minister has said that we (government) will bring a policy? (The Bill) expresses the sentiment of the House. And the house by voice vote will agree to the sentiment,? Jaitley said before the house unanimously passed the Bill.

Earlier, BJP MPs insisted that the Bill be withdrawn even as Gehlot said the government was ?positive? that it would implement policies that ensured the welfare of the transgender community.

Gehlot added that while the government ?agrees (with the content of the Bill) on an emotional? level, the matter involved some impracticalities because of the involvement of a number of ministries, including his own, and Health, HRD, Home Affairs and even External Affairs which deals with passports of such individuals.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also asked Siva to withdraw the Bill in light of the Minister?s promise. Deputy Chairman of the House P J Kurian too repeatedly asked Siva if he was withdrawing the Bill.

But Siva said gender equality was gaining importance even in international law. ?Twenty-nine countries have legislation controlling the rights of transgender persons,? he said.

Siva added that while the number of transgenders in the country is 4.5 lakh as per statistics, the actual number could be about 20-25 lakh.

Pointing out that representatives of the community were sitting in the gallery of the House, he argued that the transgenders have voting rights but are allegedly even denied entry in trains.

He backed his argument by saying that while the Parliament has passed 14 private members? Bills, the ones in Britain had passed 17 and Canada 229.

Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury supported Siva, telling the treasury benches, ?Pass it? you will get the credit.?

While the initial voice vote over the consideration of the Bill drew a strong ?no? from government MPs, Jaitley intervened when Siva demanded a division of votes. The mood of the House changed after Jaitley?s address and the Bill was passed unanimously.

Later, Siva thanked Jaitley for the ?timely intervention?.

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