Monday, July 27, 2020

India’s Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act: Why the activists are opposing it?

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Vanshita Banuana

Article Title

India’s Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act: Why the activists are opposing it?

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 27, 2020

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Hijra-The Indian Transgender Community | Source: Tamravidhir via Wikimedia

On July 13, 2020 the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of India notified the release of draft Rules for the much-disputed Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, and has given citizens 30 days to submit suggestions and objections.

The Ministry first published the draft Rules on April 18, 2020 and asked for comments by April 30, later extended to May 18. Based on the central government’s consideration of the submitted feedback, the updated Rules were once again opened to critique.

As summarised in this analysis by PRS Legislative Research, the Rules lay out the detailed process regarding issuance of Certificate of Identity, and welfare measures, medical facilities and such for transgender people. It also specifies that the National Institute of Social Defence will act as secretariat for the National Council for Transgender Persons.

Analysis:

  1. The Act is infamous for claiming to confer the right to self-perceived gender identity, which is also enshrined in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. Union of India judgement, but continuously neglecting this right thereby going against both a Supreme Court judgement and its own statement.
  2. This manifested once again in Rule 4 of the first draft of Rules which required a psychologist’s report— while paradoxically insisting that it requires “no medical examination”— as part of the application process. This requirement was removed from the recent draft of the Rules after backlash.
  3. Also, as stated in the Act, it is the District Magistrate who will determine the final “correctness” of the application, essentially stripping transgender people of any supposed right to self determination. It is worth noting that this places the District Magistrate, an executive figure, in a judicial position, one of ‘judging’ the ‘authenticity’ of a person’s gender identity.
  4. The above mentioned application will only provide a Certificate of Identity that states a person’s gender identity as transgender. To be able to apply for a revised Certificate of Identity to change one’s gender to male/female as per Rule 6, a person must undergo gender reassignment surgery and on top of that provide a certificate stating this from the Medical Superintendent or Chief Medical Officer from the medical institution which facilitates the surgery.
  5. This is problematic for a large multitude of reasons, including but not limited to: many transgender people not feeling the need for medical or surgical intervention, the policing of transgender people’s identity as only being ‘valid’ if they undergo surgery, and the sky-high costs of surgery contrasted with large numbers of transgender people living in unsupportive environments and/or being unable to finance their surgery.
  6. The right to self-identification continues to be blatantly violated in Rule 8, under which a District Magistrate can reject an application, following which the applicant has a right to appeal the rejection only within 60 days of intimation of the same, as stated in Rule 9.
  7. The right to self-determination was also thrown out the window when the first draft Rules imposed a penalty on “false” applications, once again referring to the arbitrary power of the District Magistrate. This has also been removed following strongly negative reactions.

It is important to compare the two versions of the Rules despite the second one being arguably better and cognizant of some of the demands made by the citizens and other stakeholders.

The first version of the Rules quite clearly depicted the narrowly cisnormative perspective through which transgender lives are seen by the people in power. Despite the many changes as a result of relentless protests, the Act is nowhere near to truly respecting and empowering transgender people.

The decision to give the final say to the District Magistrate- which some argue made the process harder than it used to be before the Act- and the refusal to provide affirmative action or reservations to ensure representation in positions of authority that transgender people have historically been denied access to.

It also does little to counter discrimination, as is seen most clearly in the punishment of sexual assault and rape being much less than for the rape of a cisgender woman. It advocates for plenty of measures but does pitifully little to ensure or enable these changes.  

History of the Act:

The history of the Act is a turbulent one. The 2016 Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill, was almost immediately slammed by activists, NGOs, other human rights organisations, and citizens, for multiple reasons.

The most derided was the provision to set up a ‘District Screening Committee’ which included the District Magistrate, a chief medical officer and a psychiatrist among others, for the sole purpose of scrutinising a transgender person’s body and identity. It also criminalised organised begging, an activity specifically common among the Hijra community.

The Lower House of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha, rejected all the proposed changes by the parliamentary standing committee along with the demands of the transgender community, and passed the bill with some amendments in 2018. A short-lived victory came in the form of the lapse of the bill due to the 2019 general elections.

However, as soon as the NDA government was re-elected, the bill was reintroduced in the Parliament with some more changes, particularly the removal of the section on District Screening Committees, but was still unsatisfactory.

The full text of this bill was not released when it was approved by the Union Cabinet on July 10, 2019, but on the morning that it was tabled in the Lok Sabha, garnering another consecutive year of protest since it was first introduced.

This is the bill as it exists today, having been passed by the Lok Sabha on August 5, 2019. When the motion to refer it to a select committee failed in the Rajya Sabha, it was passed on November 26, 2019, and received presidential assent on December 5, 2019. Recent developments include a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Act.

Despite it becoming the law of the land, transgender citizens and activists such as Esvi Anbu Kothazam and Kanmani Ray continue to criticse it and the insidious transphobic thinking that has always guided it.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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