Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor has introduced another private member bill in Lok Sabha, “to ensure equality to every citizen of the country by providing protection against all forms of social discrimination.” The Bill, titled Anti-Discrimination And Equality Bill, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 10 by Dr. Tharoor.
The Bill clubs people under various groups- protected, and disadvantaged; and defines what would constitute discrrimination , both direct and indirect. The Bill clubs following characteristics – sexual orientation: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, kothis and other sexual minorities; and, gender identity: transgendered persons, hijras and gender-non-conforming persons; under disadvantaged groups, along with caste, race, disability, HIV-status, marital status etc. It further prescribes forming of a Central Equality Commission by both the Centre and State Governments to “exercise the power conferred on, and to perform the functions and duties assigned to it under this Act”.
Prior to this bill, Dr. Tharoor had tried to introduce a bill in Lok Sabha to amend/scrap Section 377, but was defeated in the introduction stage itself. This bill goes beyond his previous attempts and tries to ensure strict anti-discrimination laws not just against gender and sexual minorities, but many other groups in both their workplace and in society.
In a Statement of Objects and Reasons attached at the end of the bill, Dr. Shashi Tharoor wrote:
The Constitution of India promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to all our citizens. However, discrimination denies these cherished constitutional promises.
Cases of discrimination continue to be witnessed in all spheres of social, economic and political life. They are frequently directed against dalits, muslims, women, persons of different sexual orientations ‘hijras’ persons with disabilities, persons from North-Eastern States unmarried couples and non-vegetarians, among others.
There is a need to protect everyone who are subject to all forms of unfair discrimination under a single comprehensive legislation which should be neutral and free from bias. Although it is normally minorities that are at the receiving end of discrimination, the law, in order to be sound, should encompass all citizens. It must protect both minorities as well as majorities, which is the intention of this Bill.
Existing constitutional protections against discrimination under articles 14, 15, 16 and 17 are not sufficient and need to be strengthened with additional statutory protections in order to realize their intended purpose. The constitutional directives under articles 38, 39 and 46, as well as the Fundamental Duty of all citizens under clauses (c) and (e) of article 51A are also intended towards ensuring equality among all.
Group membership is celebrated in a vibrant and pluralistic society such as ours, but the law must ensure that no citizen is discriminated against or put to a disadvantage on account of membership of certain groups. There is also a need to encourage diversity and affirmative action so long as such discrimination exists, including within the State’s rosters of employment and in its various instruments. Instead of merely mandating punishment for offences we must simultaneously engender greater understanding and empathy within the system among the individuals who constitute that system.
It is also noted that India is at present an exception among liberal democracies for not enacting a comprehensive law against discrimination, covering both the public and the private sectors. It must be recognized that membership of a group should never adversely affect a citizen’s life, and that there is a need to protect all groups and citizens from discrimination in the interests of national unity and diversity.
Hence this Bill.