Momentous Achievements for Intersex Rights in India

2019

August and September of 2019 saw two major wins for intersex rights in India. In August, the government in the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu issued new policy to protect the rights of intersex people following a ruling in favour of an intersex woman at the High Court in Madras. This regulation prohibits “sex-normalising” or […]

August and September of 2019 saw two major wins for intersex rights in India. In August, the government in the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu issued new policy to protect the rights of intersex people following a ruling in favour of an intersex woman at the High Court in Madras. This regulation prohibits “sex-normalising” or “sex assignment” surgeries on intersex babies and children. The following month, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) included several recommendations for India to adopt human rights measures for intersex people in their concluding observations. Both of these outcomes will play a strong role in the adoption of human rights protections for intersex people in India as a whole.

Stopping Unnecessary Surgeries in Tamil Nadu

The decision to ban “sex-normalising” surgeries in Tamil Nadu comes following a lawsuit started in April by an intersex woman and her husband at the High Court in Madras. “Sex-normalising” surgeries are legal and common in most countries, and are often performed without the consent of the child or parents. Doctors will not be allowed to perform surgeries to “correct” the sex characteristics of intersex babies and children, however, they will still be allowed to preform surgeries in life-threatening cases.

The ruling from the Madras High Court concludes: “The government after careful examination of all the above points and based on the opinions of the experts as forwarded by the Director of Medical Education, have decided to ban sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children except on life-threatening situations and ordered accordingly. The life-threatening situation shall be decided by the Government based on recommendation of the Director of Medical Education who shall form a committee [including a Social Worker / Psychology worker / intersex activist].

The Director of Medical Education shall take every step to ensure that the above exceptional clause of life-threatening situation shall not be misused in any way by anyone which shall affect the implementation of the ban on sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children.”

COC Netherlands and Nederlandse Organisatie voor Seksediversiteit (NNID) supported Srishti Madurai — an Indian intersex organization led by Gopi Shankar Madurai — to organize a policy meeting with government representatives and other stakeholders. This meeting focused on preparing and implementing this High Court ruling. Currently, the focus is on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promote this legislation throughout the rest of India.

Indian Intersex Rights at the United Nations

In September 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) included several recommendations for India to adopt human rights measures for intersex people in their concluding observations.

The CRPD is a Treaty Body for all rights relating to people living with a disability. All UN member states that have signed the Treaty can then be held accountable by a committee of experts who review how well they are doing and give concluding observations that are intended to be binding.

This achievement is a direct result of the lobbying efforts by Srishti Madurai, supported by COC Nederland and NNID. Following the successful lobbying campaign in Geneva, the CRPD recommended that the Indian government make a number of policy changes in order to guarantee human rights for intersex people. The recommendations are:

  • The government must implement awareness-raising programs and training to promote human rights and protection from prejudice and harassment for intersex people.

 

  • The government must adopt measures to ensure that intersex individuals are given a right to life, meaning that they will be protected from mercy killings, attacks, and other harmful practices. The government must also enforce investigations into these incidents, and sanction perpetrators.

 

  • The government must protect intersex children against attacks on their lives and all related harmful practices

 

  • The government must take measures to prevent “sex assignment” or “sex-normalising” surgeries on intersex children. The government must also guarantee the right of intersex people to maintain their physical and mental integrity.

 

  • The government must take measures to prevent rejection, stigmatisation, and bullying of intersex children, and to revise the regulations to guarantee access to education, to combat stereotypes, and to set up mechanisms for filing complaints and imposing sanctions in cases of discrimination.

 

This is the first time the United Nations Human Rights Commission Treaty Bodies Committee has given a recommendation on intersex human rights to the Republic of India. These binding recommendations from the CRPD, alongside the win in the High Court of Tamil Nadu against “sex-normalising” surgeries, are momentous achievements for intersex rights in India. These outcomes will be used to further the adoption of human rights measures and protections for intersex people by the government of India as a whole. Following these results, Srishti Madurai intends to continue engaging with the Indian government on all levels to ensure the adoption of these recommendations and rulings.