Roofless in Delhi - PART IV

They have a home, out in the open

Delhi has shelter homes for men, women, children, disabled, drug-addicts but not one for the third gender.

The Delhi government has shelters for men, women, family, children, disabled, pregnant women and drug addicts but none for the transgenders. The government also does not have data on the population of homeless transgenders. (Photo by Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times)

Maya, 30, was born as Amit Kumar and loves Rajkumar. The two are not married but have been seeing each other for four years now. Rajkumar is contractual labourer in weddings and parties. Maya begs for a living. She says Rajkumar is her husband.

Every evening, Rajkumar checks into a men’s shelter but Maya sleeps under trees within the compound. They were living together in a hutment, next to the Yamuna, but the swollen river washed away their only home after heavy rain last month.

“I could have moved into the men’s shelter with him. But I do not want to sleep beside other men,” Maya says as she unwraps the bed sheets under a tree.

“God made us different. I am not a man. I wish I could sleep with my husband but we cannot afford a home. Sleeping together on the road is not practical. We sleep not very far from each other,” she says.

Maya’s story is that of any homeless transgender across the city. Most people from the third gender Hindustan Times met over 20 nights said they were the ‘real homeless.’

The Delhi government has shelters for men, women, family, children, disabled, pregnant women and drug addicts but none for the transgenders.

Most transgenders HT met said they cannot sleep on the roadside and the parks. They either assaulted or molested or the cops beat them to force them to move to night shelters.


The Supreme Court had in 2014 accorded equal status to the third gender but city NGOs say little has been done on the ground.

The government does not have data on the population of homeless transgenders. At the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), there is no proposal yet to have any shelter for this section.

Board chief VK Jain said he will call a meeting with NGOs and get an estimate of their homeless transgender population.

“This is a relevant observation. The government will do something about their shelter problems in collaboration with NGOs.”

Anjaann Joshii, executive director, SPACE (Society for People’s Awareness, Care and Empowerment) who has worked on problems of the third gender, said they ‘literally ‘ die on the streets.

“The Supreme Court may have recognized the third gender but when they die, they do not get recognition. Their bodies on the road are packed off as men or boys,” Joshii.

Joshii said most of the third gender people live in areas near the Kashmere Gate ISBT and Jama Masjid. “Many who can afford Rs 30-50 a night for a cot sleep in an open compound with other homeless in properties owned by private individuals. The rest change into men’s clothes and sleep on the roadside.”


Every morning, at sharp 11, Maya leaves with her friend Kajal, 24. The two board an auto-rickshaw to Old Delhi and take a local to Ghaziabad. She takes at least 2-3 trips a day to beg.

“We do not leave before 11 because of the police and government officers who come to arrest beggars,” Kajal says.

“We know their timings well, we know when to take the train. In all these years, the government failed to do anything from our community and now they threaten to arrest us if we beg,”

Under the Bombay Prevention of Delhi Act, 1959, a person can be jailed for a year if caught begging.

People caught begging are sent to a detention home in Lampur, north-west Delhi.

SPACE says it gets at least 7-8 cases of third gender people held for begging every month. “The police target the third gender beggars selectively,” Joshii says.

“Once they are arrested, they are locked in men’s lock-ups and made to remove clothes. Some are sexually assaulted. A transgender beggar who was caught begging for Rs5 spent a year in prison. The laws are also not practical.”


Sitting cross-legged, Rekha tucks her curly hair behind her ears. From a pink saree, she has changed into a polo T-shirt and jeans. She wipes off the kohl in her eyes. The pink lipstick is visible. She must change before the sun sets. This is her daily routine. Once the last of her makeup is removed, Rekha becomes Ajay.

Ajay is allowed inside government night shelters. Rekha is not.

Delhi has 197 night shelters but not one for the ‘third gender.’

Eunuchs and transgenders say they are the real homeless. We met Rekha – a transgender person -- outside a north Delhi shelter. Finding a space to sleep on the pavement or elsewhere outside is a daily struggle for her.

She is allowed in shelters after she changes her clothes and her name.

Rekha says there are around 2,000 transgenders and eunuchs in north Delhi alone. Most of them are homeless – they beg at traffic signals and houses, and dance at weddings for a living.

There is no official figure, though.

They cannot sleep on the roadside as other homeless – mostly drug addicts -- and cops harass them. “When we sleep on the road, we are teased and mugged. We are even molested and robbed.” Rekha says.

“Even the police do not allow us to sleep on the road with the clothes we normally wear. We have no option but to change into men’s clothes and get inside their shelter,” she says.


Five years ago, Rekha, then 23, was actually Ajay from Bihar, who loved body-building and action movies. He came to Delhi in search of work but spent the first two years in the open – often without food. He stayed with drug addicts, saw them die of overdose and their bodies eaten by rodents.

One day when he decided to return to his village, he saw a group of eunuchs dancing outside a house. They asked him to join them and the transformation happened. He surrendered his identity and chose to become Rekha.

“I am Rekha. Do not call me Ajay. Believe me I realised I wanted to be with the third gender in a fraction of a second that day.”


Rekha was introduced to a guru (the head of a group of eunuchs). She was promised food, money and a place to stay. For a year, Rekha was trained to walk, dance and sing like eunuchs.

“There were theory classes and field training,” she said. “Initially it was awkward wearing a suit or a saree with jewellery but I was told I would have to leave if I don’t.”

“They taught me to put makeup and jewellery. The taught me to sway and walk like a woman. The most difficult part was to clap like eunuchs,” she recalls.

Rekha started earning around Rs10,000 a month. She even saved and sent R 40,000 back home to her brother.

“I told my brother I had an office. When he calls while I am performing, I tell him that I am busy in a meeting and cannot talk.”

The good times did not last. Tired of the atrocities of their guru, Rekha and her friends moved out. They were forced to sleep on the roadside or the Yamuna banks.


Sunita, 25, has a request for the government -- separate shelters for homeless eunuchs. Inside shelter number 271, on the banks of the Yamuna near the Kashmere Gate ISBT, Sunita checks in as Sunil. Unlike Rekha, Sunita says she was a eunuch at birth. She had in the past refused to sleep in night shelters beside men and preferred the roadside.

“The police torture us. They extort our hard-earned money. I have been beaten like an animal and forced to give money,” she said. “The cops threaten to frame us in false cases if we do not bribe them. Even after paying, I am not allowed to sleep on the roadside. They were worried that if I am sexually assaulted, it becomes a blot on their record,” Sunita says.

Sunita cannot leave her guru and work on her own. “Every signal or area is divided by our gurus. If I go and stand at a signal or decide to dance at somebody’s house on my own, I will be beaten up. There are groups working in specific areas,” she says.

Sunita tried staying at her guru’s place once but every evening, she had to do domestic work. On her first night on the road, a drug addict molested her and asked her to show her private parts. It was a nightmare. She decided to change into a man’s clothes and check into a government shelter.

“If there are shelters for women, children, men and families, then why not for us? There are shelter homes for the disabled too. Are third genders not humans? We earn our living by working hard, then why this discrimination? Switching roles every evening is painful,” Sunita says.


Uncomfortable sleeping beside men in the shelters, Rekha and Sunita recently built shanties near the portable cabins. Rekha’s hutment, next to a drain, has three bed covers as her wall. It has no light or fan. It is not more than 20 square feet, she cannot stand inside. She says the space is enough and uses it only for sleeping and storing sarees.

Every morning, Rekha and Sunita share a car’s side-view mirror – they managed to steal one – to put lipstick and kohl.

As they step out, they are taunted but they do not mind.