Editorial Simplified: Bills of Rights for the Vulnerable | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

Towards the end of the previous government’s tenure, a number of controversial bills were introduced in Parliament. With the dissolution of Parliament, these bills lapsed.


The problematic social Bills

  • In the social sphere, the government introduced the Transgender Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and the Trafficking Bill.
  • In each of the cases, the draft legislation was introduced with the aim of addressing an existing lacuna in the legal landscape.
  • However, when it came to the content of these bills, consultation with impacted communities was effectively eschewed, and the result was a set of drafts that, far from protecting rights, actively harmed them.
  • For example, the Transgender Bill did away with the fundamental and non-negotiable principle of the right to self-determination of gender identity.
  • Similarly, the Surrogacy Bill excluded LGBT individuals from its ambit, imposed discriminatory age restrictions upon men and women, and by entirely outlawing “commercial” surrogacy opened up space for underground and unreported exploitation of women.
  • The Trafficking Bill criminalised begging without providing any manner of effective alternatives and failed to distinguish between non-consensual trafficking and consensual sex work. It thus opened the door to criminalising livelihoods on the basis of what was effectively a set of narrow, moral objections.

Common factors between these Bills

  • First, each of them dealt with intimate subjects such as individuals’ decisions of what to do with their body, personal dignity and autonomy, and gender identity.
  • Second, they concerned the rights of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our society.
  • Third, they were drafted without adequately consulting with, or listening to, the members of the communities who were impacted.
  • Fourth, instead of guaranteeing and securing the rights of these communities to be free from state interference, they extended the state’s control and domination.
  • And last, they were met by extensive and widespread protests from the communities themselves.

What lies ahead?

  • While the government is, of course, entitled to frame its own policies, and draft and implement legislation to enact those policies, there are certain constraints upon how it should go about that task.
  • At the minimum, the voices of those who will be directly impacted by the policy should be listened to and engaged with in good faith, and basic constitutional principles and values ought to be respected.
  • .It is to be hoped that these lacunae and shortcomings are remedied by the continuing government in power. Apart from the courts, however, this would need a sustained public movement around these issues, which can make its voice heard in the halls of power.