This document captures the essence of the comments made by the speakers during the release of the report on the Status of the Human Rights of Transgenders in Karnataka in 2014. Held on August 13, 2015 at the Jain University auditorium in Bangalore, it was chaired by Ms. Jaimala, MLC Karnataka and also chairperson of the state commission on transgenders and sex workers. The other speakers were Akkai Padmashali, human rights activist and founder Ondede (an NGO in Bangalore that advocates for the rights of children, women and sexual minorities), B. T. Venkatesh, human rights lawyer and former SPP, Karnataka High Court, Advocate from the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) and Aasha Ramesh, feminist and human rights activist.
Akkai welcomed everyone with the words, “Today is not a day of celebration as we will hear about the human rights violations of transpersons in Karnataka and in 2 specific incidents that occurred last year. November 25, 2014 was a blackmark as 47 transpersons who were bathing, eating or doing other activities were forcibly taken to the Beggars colony in Bangalore on the orders of then police commissioner, M. N. Reddi due to an altercation with a transperson the previous day. They were raped and private parts were injured. A few months prior to that, Richa, a transwoman from Mysore was falsely accused of murder and were released after 3 months when the High Court found that they were not guilty”.
“When Prerna first approached me about doing her internship with Ondede and preparing this report, I was pleasantly surprised by her determination and commitment”, Akkai said. 3 years back, I had asked her if I could shake hands with her as many people hesitate to befriend transpeople. Prerna Kodur, an undergraduate student of law in Bangalore and an intern with Ondede who authored the report shared, “The last month was incredible for me. I met some wonderful people whom many of us marginalize. I was also like that as nobody told me not to discriminate against transpersons. Higher education is unavailable to them. Transpeople face torture and atrocities from the police, regularly. Shanti, a transwoman who was gang raped by 9 people cannot complain to the police about it they will most probably tell her that as a sex worker, she should accept it. Manya, a graduate in hotel management is begging as she has no job.”
Richa, a transwoman from Mysore recalled how she spent 3 months in jail after being falsely accused of murder. Greeting the other speakers and every one as sisters and brothers, she narrated, “4 of us Mangalamukhis were returning from a dance event during the Ganesha festival in Mysore one night in 2014. One of us was visiting from Bangalore to meet her mother for the Gowri Ganesha festival to give her a sari. When some young men confronted us and asked where we were going, we told them that our house was nearby. They kept staring at us menacingly, followed us home and forced us to open the door saying they wanted to discuss something with us. We told them to leave as it is a massage centre. They underwent a massage for which they paid us 500 rupees and then asked us for more massages without extra payment. They then ransacked the house, stole 25,000 rupees damaged our belongings and assaulted us. Our neighbours intervened to assist us but five of the seven men escaped by 2 am.
When we went to the police station to register a complaint stating that we are also women, we were asked to return later promising that a few of the culprits’ possessions were seized. We returned to the police station around 10 am but our attackers came only around 12 noon. They said that they did not want us in that neighbourhood and the owner of a local dhaba (eatery) had told them to force us to leave. Based on the request of the youth, we did not register a complaint and went back home.
We approached the dhaba owner saying that he could have talked to us directly as we had a cordial relationship earlier. 4 young men from Ashodaya, an NGO who came to help us were also attacked by the youth. The father of one of them who is physically challenged was also present, died of cardiac arrest on seeing his son bleeding. Immediately we were locked up by Pavan, the dhaba owner and blamed for the death and arrested.
We were ill treated, groped and abused at the police station. A crowd also gathered due to which the police asked us to stay inside overnight. The false news also spread through Kannada television channels quickly. As we were accused of murder we were transferred to the Mysore central jail where there was a question if we must be kept in the women’s or men’s cell. Others also jeered at us. Luckily, after 3 months, the court concluded that the old man died of a heart attack and filed a B report. However, my father a cancer patient who had not reconciled with my gender identity, passed away on hearing of my incarceration. We request society not look at or talk to us disrespectfully. Please treat us like human beings”.
Rakshita, a young transwoman based in Bangalore mentioned briefly how the transpersons who were placed in the Beggars’ Home in November 2014 were harassed and humiliated. She recounted a few of the incidents when she was also gravely insulted by the police and other people. “I was not allowed to open a bank account under the premise that transpersons are robbers. When I questioned that, I was advised to approach the police. But the attitude of the police also hurt me. I declared that as an insult to their profession.
We are ostracized by our family, insulted by society and harassed by the police. Please listen to us and let us choose our gender. Yesterday, when I went to get my aadhar card, the relevant government employee asked me if my gender should be male when I specified female. We are being denied jobs due to lack of qualifications by people who prioritize physical appearance. I had to discontinue studying for my undergraduate degree as my lecturer humiliated me for my gender identity. I opposed it but in vain. Thus, people like me are pushed to do sex work and begging by society”, she ended amidst tears.
Expressing his pleasure at being there, BT Venkatesh said, “I am happy at how Akkai and others have grown and are open to sharing their stories. I have been with this community for 17 years and am also part of many human rights groups here and nationally. It is pertinent to note that PUCL Bangalore brought out one of the earliest reports on the harsh realities of transpersons. The court is a seat of campaigning. Change is happening and perceptible. Around 15 years ago, any phone call I received after 10 pm would be from a gender minority community member in trouble. It happened almost daily. I designated a junior colleague who had to visit the police station regularly at night to assist transpersons. The stigma attached to sex work is very painful. However, I understand why transpersons are in sex work.
As a child, I was fortunate to grow up in a small town in Karnataka. There, I often witnessed jogappas who comforted women who poured out their woes to them. They did the function of present day counsellors. Transpersons are often accused of causing all possible bodily injuries that can be implicated under the IPC as per the whim and fancy of the police officer. The behaviour of police seems to be encouraged by the attitude of the judges who address undertrials based on their socio-economic status. A transman whom I defended some years ago was raped for 7 continuous days in the police station. Further he was raped for another 15 days when he continued to be in jail.
I know people who are still scared to come out with their gender identity and sexual orientation. 10% of population tend towards homosexuality as per international studies. However, the violence against them is very high. Reports must continue to be published and discussions should be held about sexual minorities. It is important that this message should go. We are advancing in many areas perhaps but we do not want to discuss sexuality. In the land of kamasutra, we are regressing as far as sex is concerned. We must be humane. Otherwise we will be living in an uncivil society”.
Soon after, Akkai remarked to the audience, “You are a part of society where we must discuss sexuality, a beautiful word. People have different sexual orientation and gender identity. It is simple and natural”.
Advocate noted, “The concept of a universal family is not being followed. We have no tolerance but have misguided notions about certain classes of persons. When we hear the word transgender, we immediately associate it with activities that we would avoid. Their gender or sexual orientation is not the fault of homosexuals or transpersons. Although many awareness and sensitization sessions are being held for the police and judiciary, they are insufficient as the violence and harassment of gender and sexual minorities continues. The judiciary in Karnataka appointed a transperson as a clerk. We are not giving them jobs that they desire but criticize them for doing what they do instead. When we assemble here to discuss these issues, we hope that will be many more such reports. The poet, Kuvempu said that every person has the right to live with equal dignity. Basavanna the great social reformer also advocated for human rights of all. KSLSA is ever ready to assist all deprived classes of people. We were the first to conduct a sensitization session for the judiciary on transpersons”.
Following that, Akkai appreciated that Sana, a transwoman supports 40 disadvantaged children while Megha a transwoman also assists four children. She added, “While we oppose violence from society and state we also do not support discrimination within the community”.
Aasha highlighted, “Gender is what you choose it to be like Akkai said. I am glad that many youth are present today as they will take forward this important message to their families where there may be stigma or minimal understanding regarding transpersons. Tamil Nadu was the first state to have a transgender welfare board while Karnataka may be the first state to have policy for transpersons. We must fight for a national policy for transgenders”.
Akkai we are happy and grateful that Jain University, Garment Labour Union, Concerned for Working Children, other labour unions, child rights groups and women’s rights organizations and other institutions are here and supporting us outside too.
Jaimala began her speech by appreciating Akkai’s commitment. She said, “I was moved by the words of Richa and Rakshita and distressed at the realities that they shared. I agree with B. T. Venkatesh and also tell legislators and change their language and behaviour towards transpersons. I have been asking for support systems for sexual minorities. A painful fact is that we attained so called freedom 68 years ago but there are people who are not free in their own land. This is a country of many great souls but it is inhuman that sexual minorities should suffer so badly. I apologize to all sexual minorities on behalf of the society that rejects and humiliates them. They are also born like us. It is shameful that anyone should treat sexual minorities so terribly. It is their ignorance.
While I am happy at the Supreme Court judgment of April 2014, I condemn those who still misbehave with transpersons awfully. I am happier at Tiruchi Siva’s private member bill and am sure that Lok Sabha will pass it. I appreciate the work of Prerana and Gowthaman who have given the social and legal interpretations of the bill in the report. I wish that this report goes to all educational institutions and everyone who needs it. We all have rights in the constitution but have forgotten to claim them. I am confident that the Chief Minister and Ms. Umashri, Women and Child Development Minister, GoK will support the creation of the policy on transgenders.
I condemn the attitude and acts of the police towards transpersons. Any misdemeanor towards anyone is a human rights violation. Their bias in any issue is inexcusable. No one is above the law. Transpersons can be arrested if they commit crimes but not because they are transgenders. Your advocacy campaigns are right. We must empathize with transgenders because our may be gender minorities in our families. Such reports and discussions are valuable inputs for us”.
In conclusion, Akkai suggested that police academy and judicial academy should also have gender sensitization sessions under the stewardship of the MLC. Not everyone is like Justice Manjula Chellur or Justice (retired) A. P. Shah or B. T. Venkatesh. Section 36A of the Karnataka Police Act must be repealed. Please do what you can about IPC Section 377. She thanked Prerna and family, Gowthaman, B. T. Venkatesh and Radio Active for their valuable support. The event ended after Rakshita delivered the vote of thanks to the Government College of arts and science, Department of Journalism, Jain University, St. Joseph’s College of Arts of Science, Pinky Chandran, Director Radio Active for the photography and Ramya G, Radio Active for designing a Facebook page for the event.
Compiled by Pushpa