Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor introduced a new private member Bill in the Lok Sabha on March 10. The bill, tilted Anti-Discrimination And Equality Bil, has been introduced “to ensure equality to every citizen of the country by providing protection against all forms of social discrimination.” The bill aims at filling the constitutional gaps to protect any group or section of people who might face discrimination due to reasons of birth or any other reason outside their control, like sexual orientation. This is Shashi Tharoor’s second effort at bringing in a legislation that would protect the interest of the marginalised. Earlier he had introduced a private member’s bill to amend Section 377 that criminalises same sex relationships. However, the bill failed to see the light of the day.
With this new bill, Tharoor has enlarged the canvas of the disadvantaged and included not only people who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation but any protected or disadvantaged group that faces direct or indirect discrimination. He worked on the bill on the suggestion of Oxford Law Professor Tarun Khaitan.
The Bill also puts following people as per their sexual orientation: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, kothis and other sexual minorities; and, gender identity: transgenders, hijras and the non-confirmed genders; under the disadvantaged groups, along with those who face discrimination on the basis of their caste, race, disability, HIV-status, marital status etc.
It considers welfare measures for any disadvantaged group like women, LGBTQ community or disabled people. The bill also takes into consideration indirect discrimination faced by people.
Tarun Khaitan, who guided Tharoor through process, specifically mentions Rohith Vemula’s case as what moved him to work on a bill like this. He writes on his blog:
Dr Shashi Tharoor, MP, introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill 2016 in Lok Sabha on 10 March 2017. The Bill is an effort to respond, among other events, to Rohith Vemula’s tragic suicide, which has put the need for an anti discrimination legislation back on the political agenda. India is amongst the few regimes with a constitutional commitment to a liberal democracy that nevertheless lack a comprehensive, multi-ground, anti discrimination legislation. The Bhopal Declaration issued in 2002 seeking to chart a new course for Dalits welcomed ‘winds of change the world over’ towards inclusion and diversity and against discrimination. A conversation on the need and shape of an anti-discrimination law began after the Sachar Committee recommended it in 2006. While the UPA government did briefly consider setting up an Equal Opportunity Commission, the idea was quietly buried. Anti discrimination law remains a key demand of groups representing women, gays, lesbians, transgendered persons, and persons living with disability. The policy debate on an anti-discrimination law has been going on for about a decade. It is hoped that the existence of a draft Bill will give concrete shape to this conversation and draw attention to details. The Bill should now be sent to a parliamentary standing committee for scrutiny and revision after a wide public consultation. A copy of the Bill can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of this page.
The draft proposes the formation of a Central Equality Commission, with the commissioner having the stature of the Central Election Commission. The bill says:
(3) The Central Equality Commission shall—
(i) constitute an independent Inquiry Committee consisting of five-member to determine, after investigation, whether a group with certain protected characteristics, faces widespread and substantial social, economic, political, cultural, or educational disadvantage.
In a statement at the end of the bill, Tharoor specifies the need for such a bill. He says:
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.