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December 2016

Democracy and The Age of Consent: A Symposium at St. Joseph’s College

St. Joseph’s College along with the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity hosted a Symposium on Democracy and the Current Situation in India. Ondede in partnership with Janadhare organized a panel on “The Age of Consent” as part of this symposium.

The objective of the panel was to raise awareness about the convergence of the rights of women, children and sexual minorities on the issue of the age of consent.  The panel was composed of student speakers as well as eminent personalities such as Ms. Kavita Ratha, Ms. Anita Cheria and Mr. Vasudhendra Shroff, with each panelist bringing their own unique experience and perspective to the discussion. The panel was moderated by Dr. Akkai Padmashali, co-founder of Ondede.

The student panelists deliberated on the definition of consent and came to the conclusion that just saying yes is not enough. What is necessary is an informed consent – an informed yes, whereby all factors influencing a decision are considered, the decision is made with enough knowledge of the consequences of taking the decision,  and the decision is taken from a wide range of available options.

Ms. Kavita Ratha spoke specifically about the restriction of age as a standard of measure. She challenged the accuracy of the use of age, in legal language as a measure of the ability of a person. Ms. Anita Cheriya further vexed this question by asking “if there is no age for dissent, how can one decide an age for consent?” Mr.Shroff wove the arguments together and said that the age of consent should take into account an individual’s physical and mental ability to give consent.

The panel ended with the conclusion that responses to issues around the age of consent have to be tailored according to the children or adults involved and that the law must be applied with wisdom.

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The Transgender Community Responds to the Transgender Person’s Bill 2016

The Transgender Person’s Bill was presented to the Lok Sabha earlier this year in hopes for better protection of the rights and welfare of the community. The bill addresses the specific issues of identification, discrimination, and inclusion of the transgender community in the larger society. Members of Ondede, along with allies from various different sections within the transgender community, gathered for a conference held on the 3rd of November to draft a set of suggested amendments to the bill. The key amendments suggested are as follows:

First, it asked for the term “transgender” to be redefined such that it does not flatten the transgender identity as one that is solely determined by biology, but rather reflects the multiplicity of socio-cultural identities within the community. Furthermore, it is suggested that a distinction be drawn between transmen and transwoman in determining legislation to ensure that the unique needs of each group are catered to; specifically, those of the transwoman given the additional societal pressures foisted on female persons.

Second, the report asks for family abuse to be made legible as a critical source of discrimination and harassment for transgendered individuals and asks for the concerned authorities to provide increased protection from the same. In a similar vein, the bill also asks for the criminalization of the sexual harassment and assault of transgendered persons (specifically assault excused by religion) to further protect individuals within the community.

Third, it is suggested that the instead of a District Screening Committee, a District Screening Commission be formed to lessen the complications involved in requiring a bureaucratic organization to sanction ones’ identity. In addition, it was asked that a time frame for issuing official certification be enacted as a binding standard to make the service readily accessible. On the National Level, the report suggests that a National Commission for Transgender Persons be formed as delineated in the Rights for Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, to ensure accountability within society.

This Bill is a crucial legislative tool for the transgender community and we sincerely hope that constructive discourse with the Standing Committee will lead to better legislation for the community in the near future.

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