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TRANSGENDER PROPERTY RIGHTS

Introduction

Transgender1 or the third sex denotes those people who cannot align themselves to their given respective biological genders with their inherent biological features. They are usually born as male or female but their innate perseverance of gender turns out to be different from their bodily features. Their self-proclaimed gender identity doesn’t match with their sex leading to the discrepancy in their gender orientation. Transgender, transsexual, and hijra are synonymous with each other and are used to denote them.

Since the dawn of human civilization, the existence of transgender people has been acknowledged but they have been devoid of subsequent approval from mainstream society. Even in this 21st century, such people are viewed as taboo and are subjected to persecution and a state of constant denial. Shame and stigma still continue to characterize such subjects in both public and private spheres thus engendering grave misconceptions. They are systematically denied equal rights in spheres of education, employment, marriage, divorce, inheritance, property, adoption, etc. The rudimentary reason for their denial of equal rights is ambiguity in recognition of their gender status as most of the civil rights especially succession, inheritance, marriage, and property rights are gender-specific and the policymaking in India has been always conceived primarily in respect of only two genders i.e. male and female, thereby preventing them from exercising their civil rights in their desired gender.

National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India

The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment of National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India2 declared the transgenders as the third gender and endowed them with the right of self-identification of gender as female/ male / third gender. This self-perceived gender identity forms a very crucial part of one’s right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The two-judge bench affirmed their entitlement to the fundamental rights granted to them via the constitution of India. Any denial of their fundamental rights in the civil or criminal sphere owing to their third gender is discriminatory to them. The court held transgenders as socially and economically backward classes (OBC) who are entitled to reservation in educational institutions and public sector appointments.

Constitutional Rights

Article 14 of the Constitution of India states that the State shall not deny to “any person” equality before the law or the equal protection of the law within the territory of India. The phrase “any person” includes transgender too. And article 15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on grounds of sex. Non-recognition of the identities of transgender/hijras leads to the systematic denial of the rights of equality and equal protection of the law. Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution describes that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. It guarantees one of the most basic and fundamental human rights. Expression and alignment of one’s gender is hence an obvious derivative of article 19 (1)(a). Denial of the right to express one’s sexual identity through speech and choice of romantic/sexual partner would lead to violation of Article 19

The Transfer of Property Act 1882 and Miscellaneous rights

The Transfer of Property Act 18823 and its subsequent amendments regulate the transfer of property. The phrase ‘transfer of property’ denotes a demonstration by which a person transfers or passes the property to at least one person, or himself, and at least one different person. It basically implies the transfer of property from one person to another. The term person consists of an individual, or body of individual or company, or association. Section 5 of the Act provides that transfer of property must take place between two or more persons who are living or it must take place inter vivos. The word “person” above forth holistically includes male, female and third gender. The other property-related laws such as The Hindu Disposition Of Property Act, 1916, The Indian Easements Act, 1882, etc include the word “person” to connote and include transgender within its sphere and do not per se disqualify them from legal transactions.

Inheritance Laws

The inheritance and succession laws lay down rules pertaining to the devolution of property on the death of an individual. The property is devolved on the basis of the relationship between the deceased and the inheritor. The succession laws in India are governed by the respective personal laws of the religious communities that chiefly recognize inheritors into the watertight compartments of the male and female genders. In order to claim property rights, transgenders are required to recognize themselves as male or female.

The Hindu Succession Act 19564 which governs the inheritance of properties is completely silent pertaining to the rights of transgender. It explains who is Hindu and whom all comprise the inheritance schedule (such as son, daughter, spouse, etc.) within the said definition. The Act establishes a comprehensive and uniform system of inheritance. Ownership over the property is granted only to males and females thereby excluding the third gender. Such trans people are devoid of property rights and subject to extreme prejudice and vulnerability. They have to align their genders to respective categories of either male or female in order to claim property rights. So they have to establish their gender identity as per the one assigned to them at their birth certificate. Moreover, trans people are not entitled to the status of legal heir of their parent’s separate property nor coparcener in the Joint Hindu Family with their gender identity.

Similar to the line of succession rules of The Hindu Succession Act, the personal law of Muslims i.e. Shariat too follows similar rules pertaining to transgender property rights. Indian Succession Act, 1925 governs property inheritance of Christians. Notably, Section 44 of the act has included transgender and elucidates upon their inheritance of the ancestral property.

THE TRANSGENDER PERSONS (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS) ACT, 2019

THE TRANSGENDER PERSONS (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS) ACT, 20195 has made a decent effort to protect the rights of transgender and promote their welfare by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of education, employment, healthcare, movement, access to goods and services, choice of occupation, etc. The act has sought to remove discrepancies in unfair treatment with regard to the right to reside, purchase, rent, or otherwise occupy any property. Section 4(2) of the Act provides the right to self-perceived gender identity. Section 5 of the Act provides that a transgender person could be perceived as third gender (transgender) by making an application to the District Magistrate for issuing a certificate of identity as a transgender person. But the act does not delineate anything about property rights thereby perpetuating lacunae in the system.

Evolving Sphere

Recently States such as Uttar Pradesh6, Uttarakhand, etc have sought to enforce progressive laws on property inheritance of transgender people. It has successfully passed an amendment to include transgender people in the UP Revenue code wherein they will be included in the inheritance nomenclature. The transgender people will now be recognized as members of a landowner’s family and will hold an equal right to inherit agricultural property.

Conclusion

The SC judgment in the NALSA case coupled with THE TRANSGENDER PERSONS ACT, 2019 has sought to create a level playing field by endowing trans people with the right to self-identification and creation of the label of the third gender. Transgenders cannot be denied the right to property per se as they have the absolute right to inherit family property unless disqualified by law. The State must strive to ensure equality of rights and promote the holistic development of the trans community as a whole.

References:

  1. FAQs, https://transequality.org/issues/resources/frequently-asked-questions-about-transgender-people
  2. WP (Civil) No 400 of 2012
  3. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2338/1/A1882-04.pdf
  4. https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Inheritance-Rights-of-Transgender-A-Cry-of-Humanity.pdf
  5. https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/why-transgender-people-still-have-to-go-through-hoops-to-get-married-or-inherit-property-in-india-2842545.html

This article is written by Riya Ganguly, 2 nd year BBA LLB student at Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune.

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