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First modelling agency for transgenders in India

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By Nivedita

New Delhi: The LGBT Indian community, which is fighting a legal battle asking to revoke Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code on the grounds of violation of human rights, is set to launch the first of its kind modelling agency for transgenders.

The idea, according to Delhi-based transgender activist Rudrani Chettri, evolved out of a “feeling of frustration seeing many young beautiful transgenders who are made to feel ugly” from a young age.

“I was one of them and there was no such option open to me when I was young. It’s also a desperate desire amongst us to be seen and to be accepted into the mainstream society and to get jobs like everyone else. I hope this creates a spark in young transgenders to follow their dreams,” Chettri, founder of Mitr Trust, a city-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) charity said.

Chettri feels that time and again, the community has been a victim of prejudice in society, in the workplace and among their families and local communities, which ultimately leads them to begging or sex work to make a living. She hopes the platform helps in an image overhaul.

“This is an effort by the transgender community to improve our social and personal image, and to raise awareness about the serious funding crisis affecting us. We are not men, we are not women. We are transgenders and are proud of it,” Chettri said.

As part of its activities, the agency aims is to identify five top models and help them launch into mainstream fashion media. They have also kept a pan-India audition and teamed up with fashion stylist and photographer Rishi Raj, who will work towards getting them a spread in a leading fashion magazine.

A walk-in model audition is scheduled for Sunday and the chosen models will go through a photo shoot.

“I want this photo shoot to enhance and highlight the natural androgynous beauty of the transgender/hijra community,” Raj said.

He felt the concept of a modelling agency for transgenders may do well given how the “world is opening up” to them.

“The greatest example in the recent past being Caitlyn Jenner (international celebrity Bruce Jenner, who underwent sex transition). Fashion takes great pride in breaking boundaries and creating new trends so in a Utopian scenario, the modelling agency should do well. This activity will create awareness about the Indian transgender community,” he added.

In addition, the Mitr Trust has been working with an Indian-British team of filmmakers for the last one year to closely document the lives and struggles of transgenders. The organisation however currently lacks money to support the dream.

A crowdfunding campaign has been started on the BitGiving online platform to finance the endeavour.

“We want to raise awareness for the funding. This will allow us to carry on working with the community as we have not been able to pay our workers for eight months now, nor have we been able to provide condoms to high-risk sex workers,” said Chettri.

On Tuesday, the LGBT community rejoiced at the Supreme Court’s decision to refer to a constitution bench a batch of curative petitions seeking a relook at its earlier verdict upholding the validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality.(IANS)(image: storypick.com)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)