PUCL

People's Union for Civil Liberties

Holiday from harassment

September, 2003
The Hindu

The Hijra Habba marked a refreshing break for the transgender community, with song, dance, and good food, instead of begging, sex work, and abuse it faces every day. 

 
Fun and frolic sans prejudices — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash 

IT WAS pitch dark when I squeezed my way into Town Hall Wednesday evening. Roving spotlights were on the stage. A popular film song was playing. Women in white saris were swaying and one surfaced from the darkness of the auditorium and ran up to the stage, with dramatic effect. 

I clutched my bag closely, shrank from the people around, and wondered if the entire evening would be like this. When the lights came on, I started breathing again. There was glamour all around: designer saris, perfumes, gold watches, waxed arms, sequins, strap tops, tie-up cholis, high heels, perfect make-up, swaying hips... much cheering, many smiles. The Hijra Habba looked almost like a film awards night. But beneath the smiles, silks, and make-up, there was insecurity, fear, and pain.

Hijra Habba was organised by Vividha, a collective of the transgender community in Bangalore. (Incidentally, the hijras and other members of the sexual minority meet every week at Sangama, an NGO that fights for their rights.) Famila, one of the Vividha core group members, says: "There is so much celebration today because we are being heard. There are many people who don&;t belong to our community here who have come either out of curiosity or to extend support. Either way, we want them to know us and our concerns." Another, who refused to give her name, adds: "Today is a rare day when we are getting protection and not harassment from the police!" It was indeed a rare day for the hijra community. There was song, dance, and food for the people who mostly live by begging and prostitution on most normal days. Shunned by family and society at large for their sexual identity, the transgender community lives just by thread-thin support from each other. On any given day, they face harassment, abuse, ridicule, humiliation, extortion, and threats. 

The highlight of the habba was the release of the report on human rights violations against the transgender community in Bangalore. Released by the Karnataka Chapter of the People&;s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), the report has testimonies of hijras/kothis about their experiences of harassment and torture, from police, public, family, and peers. The report describes the deeply sexual nature of the violence they are subjected to.

What they said

Chandini:

My community is family to me now. I live by dancing and sex work. Though I miss my old family, I can never go back because they can&;t accept me like I am.

Kamal:

What&;s wrong with sex work? It is like any other work. I am not robbing or killing people. Who will give me another job? Nobody gives hijras jobs. They are only given kicks. This is the only job that makes me independent. 

Shakila: 

I have worked 10 years in a hamam (a bath house). We hijras are caught between the police and rowdies in the city. Sometimes, we get laddoos to eat, sometimes we get beatings. Can&;t we ever get protection anywhere? 

Asha:

 Even if we are hijras, we are humans.

What they want

ALL THAT hijras want is to be left alone, given some social and legal space, and dignity. Hijras are not sick or in need of cure. The WHO has, in fact, removed homosexuality and other gender identity issues from its list of "deviancies". 

Many hijras are happily married either to the men they met at the hamam or to other members of the sexual minority group. Never has a hijra been booked for stealing children, as the myth goes. Hijras and activists supporting them want the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes "unnatural sex" an offence. 

This was implemented in 1860 by Lord Macaulay and has been revoked in the U.K. Often, since it is difficult to prove violation of this particular law, hijras are booked under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITP). 

 

CHARUMATHI SUPRAJA

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