(Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions of violence against transgender persons. Read discretion advised.)
On 7 October, two transgender women were allegedly subjected to brutal attack by goons in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi district. They were out begging in Kalugumalai village when the goons allegedly abducted them, beat them up, removed their clothes, and chopped their hair off. The incident, however, came to the fore days later, on 13 October, when Dalit and transgender rights activist Grace Banu shared videos of the attack on social media. The accused were later arrested.
Then, on 16 October, just days later, two other trans women, who are sex workers, were assaulted one after the other in the state's Tiruchirappalli district, according to Banu.
"After one trans woman was attacked by goons, she was taken to a private hospital, where they refused her treatment. Soon, the other trans woman was also attacked at the same spot. The goons cut their hands, and one of the trans woman's lips was also sliced. They are now being treated at the Trichy government hospital," Banu tells The Quint.
The accused are on the run and the police have not filed cases yet, she added.
"Violence is part of our day-to-day lives. It has always been so. Now, we report cases a lot more because of social media. We can show that we were discriminated against, with proof. Earlier, that wasn't the case – we didn't have the resources to even show that we were attacked," Banu said.
'All Spaces Exclude Us'
On 7 October, a group of transgender persons were physically assaulted during a Durga Puja event in Tripura's Agartala. What began as two women heckling the trans persons and calling them names quickly escalated into a full-fledged physical attack involving over 40 men.
"Violence against the trans community is not new, it comes to the fore only once in a while. Also, let's understand that trans people experiencing violence on the streets or in public spaces is the only violence that is seen and reported, most often. It is the only violence that is visible, and that too, in a limited way," Tashi Choedup, a trans rights activist from Telangana, tells The Quint.
"Violence is systemic and structural. But for a trans person, violence is an integral part of every system and structure. Whether it's public places, public transport, healthcare systems, police stations, homes, educational institutions, workplaces, places of faith, a trans person is subjected to violence. All these spaces are exclusionary in one way or the other."Tashi Choedup, Trans Rights Activist
Tashi highlights the need for a better understanding of not just the violence that "mainstream society" inflicts on the trans community, but also the violence they face in personal spaces – at home, in schools, and at workplaces. "Violence begins at home. It follows a trans person into their school, which eventually leads them to being kicked out or excluded. This, then, leads to unemployment. And unemployment ensures that they are subjected to more violence, especially by mainstream society," Tashi adds.
'Are We Safe Anywhere?'
Natal family violence or the violence inflicted on trans persons by the families they were born into "is not something that people talk about a lot today. And even if they talk about it, it is not taken seriously. Because the notion or belief that families can be violent is not digestible to the so-called cultural minds of Indians," says Tashi, who is also a member of the Telangana Transgender Welfare Board.
Speaking about the Garima Greh attack in Delhi, wherein a trans man was allegedly picked up from a government shelter home and assaulted by police personnel over a missing complaint filed by his family on 21 July, Tashi says, "The trans man escaped his home and found shelter in a government home. But even there, the police assaulted him. He and others were subjected to torture. If we're not even safe in our homes or a government-run home, then where are we safe?"
Trans people are often victims of domestic, intimate partner, as well as caste violence. In April this year, Udhaya, a 26-year-old trans woman, suffered brutal attacks at the hands of her partner's parents. "They hit me for calling his mother athai (a term used to address mother-in-law). They used all kinds of slurs against me including vulgar terms for transgender persons, as well as casteist slurs. They also tried to stab me with a knife, but I managed to get hold of it and throw it away," Udhaya, who belongs to the Dalit community, narrated her ordeal in a video.
"It's still a debate as to whether the law on domestic violence should be applied to trans people. Why is it being debated? Just as cis-gender heterosexual women have been discriminated on the basis of gender, trans people have also faced discrimination. We are not asking for round-the-clock police protection; we are just asking for the safety and protection that we deserve as citizens of this country," Tashi adds.
What Is the Way Forward?
Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a trans rights activist and a member of the Telangana Transgender Welfare Board, says: "To ensure that we are safe, there is a need to improve our living conditions. Reservation is what we should fight for; we should also fight for affirmative action in the private sector, self employment, free surgeries, and subsidised housing."
Grace Banu, meanwhile, calls for a "strong law" to defend the community. "Various states have set up Transgender Welfare Boards as per the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, including Tamil Nadu. But they focus on welfare schemes. To tackle attacks that the trans community faces everyday, there needs to be a commission, like the human rights commission or the women's commission."
"The mandate of the welfare board in Telangana is very advisory. It doesn't have any executive powers. We can only advise the government, which is not binding either. It doesn't have quasi-judicial powers. But that doesn't mean that the board has no role. The government consults us on matters of healthcare etc. It is an important step forward."Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, Trans Rights Activist
While Tashi also agrees that welfare boards are a welcome step, they say, "I have hope and belief that these boards will change things, but such change is slow. We have to figure out how this change can be efficient and quicker."
"In some ways the world is changing – the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, has come, the NALSA judgment has come, welfare policies are coming. So many things are changing on paper. But the ground reality is different, unfortunately. These measures are yet to have a large impact on trans people's real lives."Tashi Choedup, Trans Rights Activist
They believe that training police personnel to deal with cases involving trans people and sensitising the department – in addition to conducting awareness programmes – must be the government's priority. "The state, if it wants to, can do this. It has all the resources to do it. But you need to consider it a priority, because our lives depend on it," they add.