Rajya Sabha

November 26, 2019

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019


I must first thank you in the way we began the House today, so all of us today could pay tribute to the brave soldiers, and the brave ordinary people who did what they did in the great service to the country on 26/11.
Sir, I come from a State which has always been ahead when it comes to thoughts about women’s emancipation and emancipation in general because about 150 years ago it was Raja Ram Mohan Roy and we all know what his views were on women’s rights and Sati.

Sir, we haven’t put a number to ‘how many transgenders in India?’ There are only two numbers available. One is the official number which says anywhere between seven to nine lakhs that is under a million. There are some estimates that says there are four million or 40 lakh transgenders, that is a large amount because they don’t come out.

Sir, the little history, the modern history that I am going to talk about this legislation is how did that Private Member’s Bill pass here unanimously. My colleague, Thiruchi Siva brought the Bill. That afternoon was a historic afternoon because the Bill came and we have to give credit where it is due. The Leader of the House that afternoon in Rajya Sabha, a former Minister, he is no more with us today, was Arun Jaitley ji. Let’s be very clear here, that Bill would never have got through that afternoon. Siva of course that was his engine. However, if it wasn’t for the statesmanship of the Leader of the House, Arun Jaitley ji who got all of us together and his typical style, he said, ‘listen do something’ and one sensed from the little I know of Mr Jaitley there was a deep passion to do something for transgenders and that is why he said ‘hold it, we will bring this Bill in the other House’.

What happened after that is very grey and bleak because the task of passing the Bill was done but where are we on the quality of the Bill? I would join Thiruchi Siva and everybody else to appeal to the Leader of the House, who is also the Minister piloting this Billm, to think about this, to think about what your predecessor, the Leader of the House, his views on this Bill were. Sir, through you appeal to his conscience through you to please send this Bill for further examination. Give it six weeks, two weeks, so nobody from the transgender community with 30-40 lakh members, they are not represented in any House. We can’t hear them here. Let us open our ears and listen to what they have to say in a Select Committee. There is no politics in this, none at all.

The second thing I want to leave as a constrictive suggestion with the Minister is that when you look at the Transgender Bill you need to in the future look at at least three or four other legislations where we can also empower transgenders. We need to look at it. May not be in this session, but start looking at POCSO (Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences) if we want to protect transgenders. You need to look at Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act – please look at this, please look at the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace and look at the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence. Because if we look at these legislations together, then over the years we can find a solution.

Sir, I’m not a lawyer like Satish Ji is or Arun Jaitley Ji was, I am a lay person who was reading this Bill in order to understand it and through the Minister and all the legal people. If a man rapes a woman, minimum punishment is 10 years or life imprisonment. That is the law. If a man rapes under someone under 12 years of age then it is life or death; very good. (Punishment for) attempt to rape is 5 years and here is the serious lacunae: what happens if a man rapes a transgender? The maximum punishment listed in the Bill for a sexual offence, or other such offences, is 6 months to 2 years. Sir, this is not politics. The question is how can we be passing this? In other words we can say, the message is rape of women is very bad; rape a child — worse. But transgender? These people are on the streets, they are begging and are a high-risk group. What is this Bill we are passing? This is not about politics; this is about thinking this through, Sir.

I wasn’t listed to speak on this Bill but I thought I must. The situation, I don’t think it is so dark. I’m a lot more positive than Thiruchi Siva is and I will tell you why. This Bill was there for all this time, the fact that this Bill is coming, there is hope. There are states like Tamil Nadu and Bengal who are doing things and I’m glad that they are and we keep discussing it in a friendly but competitive way. The first state in the country to set up a Transgender Board wass – I will say Bengal but let’s not fight; it’s 1 and 2. It’s not a match here; it’s about doing it together- giving a message.

In Bengal, transgenders have ID cards. With those ID cards they have access to education, health, employment … there is no formal reservation but it is happening today. And with a sense of delight, imagine a college Principal in Bengal is from the transgender community. What a fantastic message it gave across the state. Also, there are about 20-25 colleges already – there will be more colleges later – where there is a separate toilet for transgenders. Having a toilet transgenders must feel a sense of comfort.

Sir, these are some of the suggestions; that is why we are asking. The starting point was passing of a Private Member’s Bill. Then, I told you about the statements displayed by everybody. Now we need to listen to everybody more. Otherwise, if we do not do good scrutiny then it will seem as a half baked piece of legislation. Even though I believe with half baked legislation, strong State governments can still do more for the community.

Sir, my final two points. Since we started off with 26/11 today, with a lot of sadness, no anger at all, and a lot of respect, 17 opposition parties on Constitution Day sat for 100 minutes under the statue of Dr Ambedkar. Through you Sir, I want to make a minimum point. On Constitution Day, I am making a point on the Constitution. Main Article 14 discuss karunga, Article 21 discuss karunga. Samvidhan mein jo likkha hain, yeh transgender ke liye hi likkha hain. Jo bahar mein bola, wohi andar mein bol rahe hain. Mujhe allow kijiye. Thank you, Sir.

So, there is hope for Bengal, there is hope for Tamil Nadu, because the original hope was given by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Vidyasagar more than 100 years ago. At the end with a very humble request, in good spirit, let the Government, let the Minister – this is the spirit in which we wanted to do this. Let the government at least bring one amendment. We are not pushing or begging. Answer this question we have raised. Bring one amendment or put it off by six weeks. Because a Private Member brought a Bill and the Leader of the House that time (of the NDA) said yes, bring the Bill.

In that spirit Sir, I appeal to this government through you. Thank you, Sir, for giving me the chance to speak. You been very gentle.