The Law ministry has rejected amendments in the labour laws that were in direct benefit for transgenders, citing reasons from an act of 1897. Is the discrimination against them far deeper than we accept?
Heading towards sad regression, the Law ministry has reportedly derecognised transgenders from the country’s labour laws framework. This comes three years after the landmark judgement of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs The Union of India was passed by the Supreme Court of India, that recognised transgenders as the third gender for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under the Indian constitution, and urging the Centre and the State to provide for equitable opportunities for their education and skill enhancement.
This comes from the government’s decision to streamline 38 labour acts into four labour codes; namely the Code on Wages, Code on Industrial Relations, Code on Social Security and Code on occupational safety, health and working conditions, as part of its labour reforms. The purpose of implementing this code is to remove multiple definitions and pave way for compliance without undermining the importance of wage security and social security of the workers. When a senior official at the Ministry of Labour and Employment was questioned on the reported derecognisation of transgenders by The Hindu, he responded, “We had proposed inserting clauses for recognizing rights of transgender workers in all four codes. However, the law ministry objected citing the General clauses Act 1897, according to which transgenders fall into the definition of a “person”. It was then decided that there was no need to add a separate clause for them.” Even in the amendments that have been proposed for Factories Act of 1948, the inclusion of transgender rights has been shelved. The amendments could potentially have ensured dignity and respect for transgenders at all workplaces, and upheld constitutional freedom for the marginalised community.
Besides a few draft bills, no action has been taken to align the rights of transgenders with existing laws. Despite the NALSA verdict, most laws of the country which pertain to adoption, succession, and criminal offences have no mention of the third gender. Recently, a court ordered bail for four people who were accused of gang-raping a trans person. The law is still silent about transgenders, as section 376, that criminalises rape has no provisions for them. Similarly, section 377 regarding criminal offence of unnatural sex is also incomplete as it deals with crimes against a woman, man and animal, but doesn’t specify anything for the third gender.
The problem lies with failing to acknowledge ‘transgender’ and using gender neutral terms like “person” that invoke arbitrariness and are open to several interpretations, thus gauging on the vulnerability of transgender community. Using the term ‘eunuch’ in laws is also extremely derogatory, and it repeals them from the protective laws that are available for other genders. If the country’s legal frameworks can’t include separate clauses for the third gender, it means that discrimination against them is far deeper than we supposedly accept.
Feature Image Credits: The Indian Express