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For India’s Third Gender, getting a shelter Home is an Uphill Battle

In 2014, the Supreme Court had ordered that transgenders be treated as the third gender and be given reservations on the lines of those for OBCs

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(Representational Image) Transgender, India. Image source: Sami Siva / Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
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  • Kinnar Maa Samajik Sanstha Trust had requested for a separate ashram for the transgenders in Mumbai
  • The Delhi High Court had struck down Section 377 in 2009 but the Supreme Court reversed this in 2013
  • In 2014, the Supreme Court had ordered that transgenders be treated as the third gender

New Delhi– They are ostracised, humiliated and sneered at, and yet India’s transgender community continues to battle for their rights amid all opposition. Fida, a member of India’s first transgender group — 6 Pack Band – says the community in the Mumbai region aspires for an ashram of its own, but they have yet not been able to get the land for it.

According to Fida, an organisation called the Kinnar Maa Samajik Sanstha Trust had requested for a separate ashram for the transgenders in Mumbai, but they are yet to get the work done.

There are a lot of handicapped kinnars (transgenders) who are either homeless, or who have faced acid attacks. Some of them have sustained injuries after being thrown from trains while begging. There are old age ashrams, but there is nothing for the transgenders, she added.

Street protest by LGBT community. Image source: thegayfacts.com
Street protest by LGBT community. Image source: thegayfacts.com

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalises homosexuality and activists of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community have been fighting a legal battle asking for the law to be revoked on grounds that it violates their human rights.

The Delhi High Court had struck down Section 377 in 2009 but the Supreme Court reversed this in 2013. It heard the matter again earlier this year but stood by its previous judgement.

Thereafter, a group of celebrities, including celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia, approached the apex court to quash the penal provision. The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to examine the fresh petition, saying it will be placed before Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur.

India LGBT Participants pose during "Queer Azadi Mumbai 2009" (Queer Freedom Mumbai 2009), a parade for gay and lesbian rights, in Mumbai August 16, 2009.REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe
India LGBT
Participants pose during “Queer Azadi Mumbai 2009” (Queer Freedom Mumbai 2009), a parade for gay and lesbian rights, in Mumbai August 16, 2009. Image source: REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

In 2014, the Supreme Court had ordered that transgenders be treated as the third gender and be given reservations on the lines of those for OBCs (other backward classes).

Last November, in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for treating transgenders with greater sensitivity. We need to amend and make new laws for transgenders, he had said.

Like several others fighting for their rights, Fida said that the trust has been battling for the last five to six years to get permission for the ashram but owing to political issues, they are yet to get this.

We have been fighting to get this ashram for the last five to six years. We have asked for an ashram in Thane, Fida told IANS on the phone from Mumbai.

Fida has now gained fame with 6 Pack Band, which won the coveted Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival. It was given to the group for espousing a social cause. Backed by Yash Raj Films’ youth-wing Y-Films, the group has even worked with industry stalwarts like Sonu Nigam and Hrithik Roshan, who have given them support.

Fida says that she wants to use this platform to help her community.

Now people know our six-member band, but who knows the thousands of people in our community? Who will be our voice? I want to take the opportunity to play in the band to express the desires of our community in front of the public, she said.

Due to the lack of an ashram, Fida rued that the already marginalised transgender community of India is forced to beg on the streets or work at bars.

Those who are rotting on the street are still suffering, those who are working in beer bars are still stuck there. We have been ignored. We will die on the streets. The government is not giving attention to us, she said.

In 2015, the Kinnar Maa Samajik Sanstha Trust had organised a Pink Rally to demand equal rights for the transgender community in India. Fida said that despite such rallies and the support they garner, India’s transgenders are yet to find firm footing in society.

Nobody helped us. We organised the Pink Rally, but after some hulabulloo everything quietened down. Nobody does anything, she lamented.

The ostracism for transgenders in the country is so heightened, says Fida, that members of the community even find it difficult to live in rented houses.

Wherever we stay at rent, the people say, ‘Why have you kept this hijra?’ Then where do we go? That is why we need the ashram so that we can live respectfully with our own community, she noted. (IANS)

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    A separate ashram could isolate them from the community in which they are living. Instead giving them homes where everybody else lives is a better idea

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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)