efe-epaNew Delhi

The transgender community in India, which faces discrimination despite being part of the country's society and culture since ancient times, is up in arms against a bill that seeks to protect their rights and reduce stigma about their identities.

They say the legislation, which is yet to be cleared by the upper house of Indian parliament, is discriminatory and regressive.

The lower house of the parliament approved the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 last week, four years after India's Supreme Court recognized the transgender community as a third gender.

The bill now goes to the upper house before the Indian president signs it into a law.

The bill is "discriminatory," Rudrani Chettri, a transgender activist and founder of the association Mitr Trust, told EFE Friday.

"We don't see it as a protection bill at all. It is more about violating our rights as human beings," said Chettri.

"What is most shocking is that they are going to form a screening committee that will decide for us if we are transgender or not," said the activist.

The administrative process for obtaining a transgender identity card, they say, is cumbersome.

A transgender person has to a certificate of identity as proof of recognition of identity as a transgender person and to invoke rights under the legislation.

It involves sending a petition to a local court along with five reports, including from a head physician, a psychologist and a government official.

Proof that lawmakers in India "have no clue of who transgender are" is found in the original definition of transgender, amended during the bill's passage through the lower house, which defines them as "(i) neither wholly female nor male; or (ii) a combination of female and male; or (iii) neither female nor male."

"What does that even mean? We don't understand the definition. I, as a transwoman, do not be called as a transwoman man (...) I identify as a woman, what is wrong with that," the activist asked.

Dozens of transgender persons from all parts of India took part in a protest against the bill at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Friday.

"So far, 27 amendments have been made to the bill," acknowledged Sonam Chisti, a transgender from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.

"But there is still a big problem, which is transgenders continue to be denied the right to identity," Chisti sad.

Colloquially called hijras, which loosely translates into eunuchs, transgenders have been part of Indian culture since ancient times and also find a mention in Hindu mythology.

They are ubiquitously seen at crowded traffic intersections in big Indian cities, dressed in bright saris and wearing heavy makeup on their faces, begging and offering blessings. They sing and dance for cash during celebrations and religious ceremonies.

According to the latest census of India in 2011, the country has half a million transgenders among its 1.25 billion inhabitants.

"We try to live a dignified life. Another thing is that all over India most of the transgender people are engaged in sex work or begging," said activist Grace Banu, from the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The law criminalizes begging but doesn't offer alternative means for transgenders to find work, according to the activist, who advocates setting aside quotas for the community in jobs and educational institutes.

By David Asta Alares