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Anita Wadekar, 32, hanged herself on the night of 24 October 2017. Her roommates woke up to the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor, and saw her hanging from a ceiling fan at their Mumbai residence.
Gauri, 35, was strangled to death in August 2017. Her bloodied body was discovered under a thin asbestos sheet in the bushes near the Railway Goods Shed in Aluva, Kerala.
Sweet Maria, 32, one of Kerala’s most prolific transgender and gay rights activists, was found dead in Kollam, Kerala, in 2012. Her neck was slit open, she had been stabbed multiple times, and her assailants had sprinkled chilli powder over her body.
All three victims were transgender women. Their deaths made the news, unlike the countless other stories of rape, violence, and abuse that transgender individuals in the country are often subjected to. Deepak Kumar, who works to rehabilitate people living with HIV, told The Quint about one such incident, where 17 policemen allegedly had “forced sex” with a transgender woman at a police station.
17 policemen had “forceful sex” with her that night. Naked and bleeding profusely, she crawled into a planting pit on the road and fainted. The next morning a stranger was kind enough to give her his shirt. She wore that and got home. She died a few days later.Deepak, Director, Policy & Programme, YouthLEAD
“The real number of incidents is at least 10 to 11 times higher than what is reported,” he says.
Transgender Day of Remembrance
In 1999, transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith began the tradition of observing 20 November as a day to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender African American woman who was brutally stabbed 20 times in her own apartment in Massachusetts on 28 November 1998.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, The Quint takes a closer look at the often overlooked and unreported environment of hate and prejudice that transgender citizens are often subjected to.
Ridiculed, Outcast, Ostracised and Desperate
Four out of every ten transgender individuals in India face sexual abuse before turning 18. Swasti, a health resource centre, surveyed 2,169 transgender citizens across three states to find that in 44 percent of the cases, the violence carries on well past childhood.
The study states that those in the age group of 11-15 were the most susceptible to sexual violence.
In most cases of physical or sexual violence, the assailant was someone known to the trans person, either a partner, or for those employed as sex workers, a client.
Sonia was 20 when she was picked up by her friend Nadeem and an acquaintance. The two men drove to his farmhouse, where they took turns to rape her. They emptied a bottle of acid on her face and abandoned her on the road, about a kilometre away from her home.
“Only Women Can Be Raped in India”
Topping the Swasti survey’s record of abuses, is emotional violence, followed by physical, and sexual violence.
Christie Raj, a 29-year-old female-to-male transgender, told The News Minute about an incident that took place in Bengaluru in 2004, when he was almost stripped naked at a bus stop. “People were wondering what my gender was, and they started teasing me because I didn’t have a moustache and was wearing a pant and shirt. They tried to strip me but I got into the bus, where they followed me. Later, when I tried to file a report, even the police were doubtful of my gender so I had to complain as a woman,” Raj says.
The sex crimes reported in this piece can legally only be called “forceful sex,” because under the Indian Penal Code, non-consensual, penetrative sex constitutes rape, only if the victim/survivor is a woman.
This puts the police in a bind, because they have little legal sanction to act on incidents of rape and sexual violence towards transgender persons.
Second, and possibly more disconcerting, is the apparent contempt, prejudice, and disdain that a number of police officers have been accused of having towards transgender people.
“Many transgender people won’t go to the police, because they know there’s no use. The police often extort them saying, “You have a lot of money.” Or they’ll say, “She is a hijra, she must have done something to deserve it.” So, even if the law is in place, the reality for transgender people in India, is very different,” Sneha Sharma, a counsellor, told The Quint.
Long Road Ahead
In some cases, the police are quick to act, but the victim is subjected to prejudice from others. In June 2017, a 19-year-old transgender woman from Pune was gangraped by four men. The police nabbed three of her assailants, charging them for unnatural offences under section 377 (unnatural offences) and 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code. The survivor’s mother told Pune Mirror:
When she went to the hospital, the doctors were asking questions about how a transgender could possibly get raped. Even the nurses were rude. I was contacted by the family of one of the accused, warning me to withdraw the complaint or face the consequences.
The law lacks the teeth, and in a number of instances, everyone – from the police to the medical staff – lack the sensitivity to treat anti-transgender violence as a real problem.
This lack of understanding and sensitivity, and in most cases, open hostility and transphobia, discourage transgender people from seeking legal remedies.
While a stronger legal framework is the need of the hour, there’s a lot more that needs to be done. Till India, as a society, changes the way it treats the third gender and develops more sensitivity, transgender rights will remain an overlooked, sidelined, and sometimes even scorned topic.
(With inputs from The Asian Age, IndiaSpend, Pune Mirror, Times Of India, Asianet News, GLAAD, The News Minute, Swasti Health Resource Center, and the Help Transgender Acid and Gang Rape Survivor Sonia Campaign)
(This article was first published on 20 November 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.)