Abused, Ousted & Denied Burial: How Kashmir’s Transpeople Survive

Abused, Ousted & Denied Burial: How Kashmir’s Transpeople Survive

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In the winter of 2015, a transgender named ‘Mama’, resident of Dalgate in Srinagar, died at the age of 90. Unlike other dead, his body was not allowed to be buried in the Mohalla graveyard. The locals vehemently opposed it saying that “it will bring trouble for the other dead in the graveyard”.

Faced with the problem, his transgender friends collected money among them and bought a piece of land for Rs 10,000 and buried him there, outside the periphery of the graveyard, beneath a tree, at an abandoned spot.

Deprived of Dignity Even in Death

Babloo, a transgender from Dalgate, said that Mama was thrown out of home by his brother some twenty years ago. Later, Mama started living in a shanty room at his ancestral home. Even Mama’s brothers refused to take part in his funeral.

While Mama’s family disowned him, the day he died, all of them went to his home and took everything that belonged to him – some cash, jewellery, musical instruments.
Babloo, friend of Mama

Mama is not the first transgender who was ostracised by his family and he won’t be the last.

Ostracised by Family

Shabnam Subhan, 44, a transgender from Sopore town in north Kashmir, was thrown out of his home at the age of 20. Since then he has been living in Srinagar and sings occasionally. Shabnam says that his family did not accept him the ‘way he was’ and would beat him often. He says that once his brother broke his arm and locked him inside a room for days.

I would not say anything to him. I thought that I deserved it because maybe there was something wrong with me.
Shabnam Subhan

As the beating by family members continued, Shabnam decided to confront his family – a confrontation that led to his ouster.

My family even took away clothes from me. I was thrown out without anything. I have spent many days in starvation.
Shabnam Subhan

In Srinagar, he got in touch with a transgender troupe and began to work with them besides trying his luck in match-making, a profession which is forced upon the transgenders in Kashmir.

‘Wish I Could Study’

Shabnam says that for some years he did not contact his family but after he began to earn, he would send some of his savings to his sister.

“I have two sisters and they were unmarried at that time. I felt that it is my responsibility to help them and save money for their marriage. I saved money and sent it but didn’t attend their marriage ceremony,” says a visibly upset Shabnam.

Shabnam says that he studied up to class 5 and due to ‘teasing, hooting and name calling’ at school, he was forced to drop out.

I wish I had been able to study. I would have loved to become a teacher. I do not like the job I am doing. It is humiliating and people do not respect it. There are times when people do not want to look at you. They think we are not human. We live a life of humiliation.
Shabnam Subhan

Subjected to Sexual Assault

Like Shabnam, Fayaz Ahmed (name changed), a transgender from Budgam, too was thrown out of his home by his family members, for ‘bringing omen to the family’. After he was thrown out, Fayaz wandered on the streets of the city, often spending nights at the Masjid.

During those days, he was “repeatedly forced to do dirty things”. Once, says Fayaz, a group of boys abducted him and raped him. Later when he went to the police to file a complaint, the police instead of helping him, laughed at him and were repeatedly asking, “How can a laancz (transgender in Koshur language) be raped?”

At that point I wanted to commit suicide. But I don’t know why I still am alive? It is a sad thing to be born a transgender.
Fayaz Ahmed (name changed)

Traditionally, the transgender community in Kashmir is synonymous with jobs such as performing at weddings and match-making. However, the transgenders say that it is a “forced choice” and that they would prefer other normal jobs if an opportunity came their way.

Owing to a high dropout rate from schools due to discrimination, many transgenders are not able to receive education which could have given them an opportunity to enter private or government job market.

Will Separate Schools Get Rid of Social Stigma?

Abdul Rasheed, popularly known as Reshma, is a transwoman who sings at the weddings. She says that she is exploited daily; she does not get paid properly and sometimes she does not get paid at all.

Reshma says that after the wedding is over, no one bothers to care for her and often it happens that she is asked to leave.

It’s humiliating and makes me feel angry. They are entertained by my singing but think that my presence around or inside their homes is dishonorable.
Reshma

In the past, she has been denied the due amount for her singing. And once she tried to raise her voice against it, she was beaten by the customer and chased away from the mohalla.

I never wanted to sing. I wish I had been able to go to school, perhaps I would have done something else. But singing is majboori (compulsion).
Reshma

Reshma says that there should be separate schools for the transgenders so that they can receive education “freely without fear”.

Rehabilitation of Transgenders into Mainstream

Aijaz Ahmed Bund, a transgender activist, has been fighting for the rights of the transgender community in Kashmir since 2001. Aijaz Ahmed Bund, who belongs to a well-established business family, decided to take up the cause of the transgenders after he had a detailed discussion with a matchmaker who had visited his home with a marriage proposal for one of his sisters.

Moved by their plight, Bund knocked the doors of the Jammu and Kashmir social welfare department, agitating for the extension of social welfare programmes – meant for the poor and destitute – to transgender people as well. He asked for constituting a welfare board to redress their grievances as well.

Though the department formulated an intervention plan for the community’s rehabilitation, the proposal didn’t move beyond official files, forcing Bund to withdraw the case.
Aijaz Ahmed Bund, author and activist who has been fighting for the rights of transgenders since 2011.
Aijaz Ahmed Bund, author and activist who has been fighting for the rights of transgenders since 2011.
(Photo Courtesy: Nayeem Rather)

In 2013, Bund approached the state human rights commission with the plea. The case lingered on for the next four years without any outcome. In May this year, Bunds and two of his colleagues filed the PIL in high court.

Bund, now working with an NGO to create awareness about the community among school-going children, has found support from both family and friends for the cause.

In his 2013 paper titled Other Sex: A Study on Problems of Transgender Women of District Srinagar for the International Journal of Scientific Research, Bund, based on interviews with a 100 transgender people, talked about the harassment that they face – including verbal abuse, assault, bullying, sexual violence and social restrictions. This has forced some from the community to migrate and avoid participation in social institutions like schools, attend weddings and festivals and go to places of worship.

In 2017, Bund wrote a book, Hijras of Kashmir: A Marginalised Population, the first of its kind. The book is, in the word of Bund, an ethnographic “narrative of abuse.” The book has 20 authorised narratives of the people from the transgender community. It reveals their life, the struggles, the abuse that they face both from the state and the society, besides documenting the daily life of the transgender people in Kashmir.

Cameraperson: Nayeem Rather
Producer: Akanksha Kumar

Also Read: Transgender Awareness Week: “Hey, Stop Being Awkward Around Us”

(Nayeem Rather is an independent journalist based out of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir)

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