We Refuse to be Subjects of Experiment for Those Who Do Not Understand Us: Transgender Persons Bill

Sayantan Datta (dattasayantan95@gmail.com) identifies as a transfeminine genderfluid individual and is an aspiring queer feminist scholar, activist and poet. They are currently pursuing their Masters in the University of Hyderabad.
8 December 2017

Bhavitha, a hijra person from Warangal, Telangana, was found dead on 2 December near a dustbin. The police did not allow her sisters and other hijra persons, to claim her body, because apparently, only biological parents or “blood relations” can lay such claims. Her body is not hers, but of the society. Burning her body might delete her corporeal existence, but the marks of the collective trauma that queer-trans people face every moment of their lives can never be erased. It is better to burn after death than to burn every day, and yet the heat kills only us, and not the ones who light the fire.

Bhavitha is not a martyr. And millions like her who are killed, molested, raped, harassed, and systematically erased daily, are not martyrs. Her death is a systematic murder resulting from social oppression and state neglect. Her blood stains all our hands. Rest in rage, Bhavitha, and allow us in our resistances and revolutions to pay homage to you. . We are not you, and can never be—you are not here, and we are, therefore, I write this in shame and sorrow, rage and disgrace.

Bhavitha’s story is not an isolated incident. It cannot be read outside the context of how queer bodies and queer lives function in society, and how legal discourses tend to delineate and manoeuvre concerns to suit the egos of patriarchal, heterosexist, transphobic, ableist and capitalist narratives of the concept of the nation state. This nation state has never been ours, and has been never been for us; democracy remains a farce when the margins exclude us as well. What spaces do we inhabit other than our bodies, our interactions, and where else can we locate our resistance in?


The Bill

It is in this context that I focus on the draconian Transgender Persons (Protection and Rights) Bill 2016, which is set to tabled in the winter session of the Parliament which begins from 15 December. The bill, in its violent conscience, intends to legalise processes that make our bodies fragile, kill our resistances, and cause us pain. The bill is a terror that I cannot even dream of. This extract from a leaflet intended for nationwide mobilisation and protest summarises the problems:

This regressive Bill, if tabled in its current form, would take away the right to self – determine one’s own gender because a District Screening Committee has been proposed to ‘certify’ someone as transgender. This Screening Committee would use a physical examination, which is denigrating and humiliating for transgender persons, and also goes against the Right to Privacy that has recently been guaranteed by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right. Also, this Bill criminalizes various ritualized occupations that involve blessing people for money or gifts (e.g. badhai, mangti, etc.) and sex work (known as dhanda, khanjra, etc.). Owing to the lack of alternative forms of employment, this clause would become a reason for transgender persons who engage in badhai and sex work to face increased state and police violence. They can be fined, and/or jailed for 6 months to 2 years. This Bill has also ignored the recommended reservation clause of the NALSA judgement. The Bill does not properly define ‘discrimination’ against transgender persons, and thereby, no proper criminal action is guaranteed against those who discriminate against transgender persons.

I would like to write about how the bill affects our politics and identities (which, I know, are not and shall not be separated). 

Queer-trans bodies are subject to systemic torture. In this state of torture, to exist is to live with the trauma. But the trauma also shows the way to understand itself and therefore counter it. If identifying as a transfeminine genderfluid individual has ever taught me something, it is that I do not need to explain to anyone why I identify so. In a society that largely considers us and our bodies as dustbins to dump all trauma, self-identification is a language of gain that we use to build on our identities. 

The bill of 2016, with its proposal of the District Screening Committee, makes my gender a nail in my coffin. It conflates my construction to my genitalia (the mutilated offspring of the myopic dystopic social sexualisation), and takes me to the altars of oppression to strip me, not only of my clothes but also of my revolution. My body here becomes the space where my identities shall never be constrained, but my body shall also become the object for voyeuristic annihilation of the unlimited potential it holds in its limited existence. I am dead, genocided into a performance I have long been trying to rid myself of. 

The District Screening Committee Clause also fractures us through identities. The idea of transgender persons befooled into thinking of themselves to be powerful with the right to “certify” others, break down the collectivisation of the community and separates the fight for equality based on intra-identitarian power politics. Queer identities have never been singular, but in these fractures, a new game of oppression awaits when committees put some persons as “more trans” than others. 

This erasure of some of us from the legal discourse and a forced performance into socialising as what we are not raises issues of concern, safety, identification and rights. Such moves should be met with resistance larger than us– we are not dustbins and subjects of experiments, we are here, and we refuse to be deleted by people who do not understand us. I am unwilling to explain my dysphoria and my politics, especially to people with loads of privileges. They can do their homework, and the onus of creating awareness to the privileged sections is not mine. On the other hand, for those whose blood is drained in social dustbins for voyeuristic expeditions daily, collective resistance can only come when we reclaim spaces that are rightfully ours, especially legal spaces, given that legal discourses and electoral politics feed on our identities.


Inability to Understand Kinship

The other complex thing that the cisnormative hypermasculine system has never been able to accept is the disavowal some of us show towards our bloodline biological families which are, more often than not, abusive on many fronts, both within and beyond their own structures. The guru-chela system, and any other forms of how we find our own kinships and solidarities are unsettling to the normative society which relies on systematic power structure and dominance. 

The bill shows a great disrespect for our agencies as human beings (which should not come as a surprise). The lawmakers shall never understand how we politicise our loves and kinships, and how we perform love across bloodlines and religions. Again, if this is unsettling, so be it, because all changes begin from moments of unsettlement. This ignorance about the margins, which has run for centuries in the social “centre” needs to be now met with resistance. 
Bhavitha can never be a token. Millions of Bhavithas die a silent death and are brushed across morgue doors. They plummet into rotting bones, empty of solace and love. In our painful narratives, we have been shaped into strong beings, from scratching our own hair to feeding our stomachs. Do not kick our stomachs: our legacies are not in our wombs but in our revolutions.




Sayantan Datta (dattasayantan95@gmail.com) identifies as a transfeminine genderfluid individual and is an aspiring queer feminist scholar, activist and poet. They are currently pursuing their Masters in the University of Hyderabad.
8 December 2017