The day began with a brief internal discussion. Rajagopal P.V presented some of the positive initiatives like the Bhoomi Kendra in Warangal district of Andhra Paradesh and new ideas that have emerged in Karnataka. We concluded with an open ended question to the group: “How can we explore ways to reach out to other sections of the society, especially those from the middle and upper middle class”. The public part of the program in the district began with garlanding of the Ambedkar Statue at an important intersection of the city followed by a public rally. There was a meeting in the Thehsildhar’s office.
Later in the day, we met representatives of the sexual minority, sex-workers and women affected by HIV communities. They presented their issues to the yatra team and appealed for our support.
Mallika, Mansoor who goes by the name Kajal and Muskan represented the transgender community. They gave a very moving and detailed account of their situation:
“There are more that 3000 people who are transgender in Hubli. Most of us do not have any form of identification documents. Our legal/administrative system recognizes only two genders. Gender and sexual identity are considered one and the same in our country and prevents our ability to procure identity documents like ration card, voters id card, etc. The problem is not just a technical problem. It is also a problem of the attitudes of government officials responsible for issuing documents. They would not even talk to us. They would be highly dismissive of us and speak to us in a disrespectful manner when we approach them”.
“In the broader society, we are not allowed to walk freely in public spaces like bus stands and railway stations. Many of us work as dancers in functions and this work requires us to work in the night and travel back home late in the night. We will be stopped by the police and questioned about the reason for our travelling late in the night. They will not accept our explanation. During the day they harass us and will instruct us to move to the neighbouring street. We are often booked in false cases of robbery. We are an easy scapegoat for the policemen. They would accuse of creating public nuisance and assume that we are sex-workers. Every day we have to face the harassment from police constables. They constantly demand money from us, and threaten us if we refuse to budge to their demands. Begging and sex-work are the only options left to us to make a living. Jogappas are able to make a living because they have a place in our local customs.”
“There was the case of a transgender person who met with an accident. Everyone was standing around her but no one was willing to help her. Blood was oozing from the body but there was not one person to giver her water, administer first aid or aid her. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic refused to allow her into the ambulance. He treated her from a distance trying not to touch her. We are being treated like untouchables. Those of us who are muslims face harassment from our community leaders. They say that Islam does not recognize the third gender.”
“Our birth itself is seen as our sin from our last lives or the sin of our families for having a transgender child. Because it is very difficult for us to find accommodation we have to live with our parents or siblings. Often we are charged double the market rate for rental accommodations. When we manage to get rental accommodations, restrictions are placed on us on having guests over.They accept us until we bring home some money. Often we live dual lives. We are not allowed to wear sarees at home. So at home we wear trousers and a shirt and when we get out we change into a saree. We are forced into unsafe and unpaid sex by the police department and our employers. We are basically rejected by our society. Are we not humans ? How long can we live under humiliation, harassment, exploitation and fear?”
“NGOs only work on the issue of HIV but they do not understand the mental health needs of our community. No NGO works on the issues of getting us our rights, helping us get our identity cards etc. Sexual realignment surgery is restricted in our country. If we are to follow all the processes it will take 2-3 years, costing 2-3 lacs and involves counseling but there are not many doctors who are properly trained in these protocols. Also most of us cannot afford this kind of treatment and we are forced to go for a one-time operation to some doctors who operate under the radar and this costs us Rs 30,000. Our issues are dealt with as part of the Women and Child Development Ministry. We have formed Karnataka Sexual-Minorities Forum to advocate for our rights. Sangama is one of the NGOs supporting us in Karnataka. We want Sexual Reassignment Surgery to be made free for our community. Our sexual identities needs to be accepted. Section 337 of the 1860 act makes sex with children, animals and partners of the same gender illegal. This needs to be changed. The High Court of Delhi had passed an order that determined that what happens within 4 walls is a private act between two consenting adults. Yet there is no national law that legalizes sex as practiced by sexual minorities. We need clear guidelines from the NACO on the needs and protocols for our community.”
Shobha and Nashima were representatives of sex-workers. They continued with the story from their perspective:
“Every women who is forced into sex-work will have a long story of abuse and violence. There is a public stigma against sex-work. The first response of the police is to beat us as though we are a curse on society. Government beauracrats, police officers who sleep with us during the night will be abusive towards us during the day. They will not take our applications, and memorandums. No one will give us a place on rent. There have been cases where the house of the sex-worker has been sold by other members of the community and the women was forced to sign the sale papers. Our own families disown us. We cannot leave this profession if we desire so. The moment the new employer learns about our past, they will reduce our salary by half and begin to sexually harass us. The ITPA act which was meant to protect us and prevent trafficking allowed the police to file cases on our clients. We were required to be at least 100 away from public places to carry out our work. There were several restrictive clauses in the Act. Our union rejected this act and protested against it. Our demand to the government is to recognize sex as work. “Our body, Our right” is our slogan.”
Vanitha spoke about the problems faced by women affected by HIV: “Even though HIV spreads through 4 modes: mother to child, blood transfusion, sex, infected syringes and blades, when society learns about a women affected by HIV they conclude that she must have had illicit sexual relationship. There is a stigma in our society against HIV. People fear to even touch us. The government has provided free pregnancy kits to hospitals to support pregnant HIV women, these kits are not used in treating us. We are forced to provide for our gloves, syringes etc. Doctors avoid treating us. As many of us have been rejected and sent out of our houses, we need ration cards. But the rule that there can be only 1 ration card per family restricts our ability to procure ration cards. There was a bill that was tabled to provide HIV women with ration cards but we are being told that this bill have been cancelled. We do not get property from our parents. When we demand rights over property we are told ‘why do you need property ? Any way you are going to die very soon’.”