NEW DELHI: Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s prime protest destination, was filled with the air of rebellion once again last Friday. In between a Communist Party of India driven protest on Assam and another against the Reserve Bank of India - hordes of activists, students, professors and laypersons joined hands to express their displeasure about the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha a fortnight ago.

Some of the provisions of the bill which were described by protesters as biased and unfair: that members of the transgender community would be subject to a screening committee that would assess their gender, and that perpetrators of sexual crimes against trans persons would receive reduced punishment.

The corner of Jantar Mantar devoted to the protest began initially to be filled with trans persons. Soon after, many cis men and women also joined in. A former Delhi University student who identified himself as Jatin told The Citizen, ‘Being a member of several college societies I used to talk about issues of the minority communities. But then, that was it, just talking. By coming here, I am trying to show the little support I can from my own side.’

The South India Transgender Federation was one of the main organisers of the protest. But citizens and activists attended from all over, from states like Manipur, Maharashtra and Haryana.

Radhika Naik from Tamil Nadu questioned the very fact that the government could impose a bill on transgender people, determining their identity without even consulting them.

‘The police beat us if we beg and sometimes for just wandering. Tell me, isn’t this harassment? And if someone really harms us, how can we even go to the police? We live in troubled times. The government gives us a ration card and a voter ID card - but that’s just equality for name’s sake. You give us cards but what about our basic rights, what about our roti, kapda and makaan (bread, clothes and shelter)?’

Radha Chatterjee from Kolkata expressed the rage this community faces and feels. ‘I am a kinnar and I can’t have kids. And I might look and act different. But that’s my life in this democracy, not anything for you to judge. I admit there might be some kinnars who do wrong, and they should justly be punished. Still, you can’t harass us for no reason. If I’m innocent and then abused, then I would definitely feel like slapping or spitting in your face.’

Personalities active in the queer rights circle were also present, including the activist Vikramaditya Sahai and the poet Akhil Katyal. One of the highlights was when Trinamool Congress leader and former quizmaster Derek O’Brien came up on stage.

O’Brien expressed his support for the movement and guaranteed the crowds that this bill would not be passed in the Rajya Sabha. The TMC has 47 members in the Council of States. His words took a sudden electoral turn as he went on to highlight the achievements of Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal, and what she had done for the transgender community.

O’Brien ended his speech by saying, ‘Do hazaar unees, BJP finish’ (The BJP will be finished come 2019).

After this digression, local trans leaders came on stage one by one to shed light on the issue, in English or other languages. Despite their troubles, optimism still shone on their faces. Radha Chatterjee told the protesters, ‘They’ll call us chhakas; they’ll call us wretches but if you think of us as wretches then let us be wretches! You see even though we have faced atrocities, we are still surviving. My guru survives as a trans, I have survived as a trans since a teen, and we will all live on no matter what challenges we face.’

After shouting slogans and singing rebel songs, the mood turned light as several drum players arrived at the scene. And for that brief moment, many from the crowd joined in, dancing merrily to the drumbeats.

For that moment it felt like their achhe din had come, even if they seemed far…

TMC leader Derek O’ Brien at the protest