Transpersons in Delhi shelter homes tackle abuse, prejudice
At 11 pm on Tuesday, Delhi police officials brought two transwomen, Meenal and Preeti — both of whom go by one name — to a government shelter home for both men and women located in Old Delhi’s Delhi Gate area. However, within hours, the two had to make other arrangements to leave after an argument broke out between the other occupants, reportedly angered by the admission of the transwomen, and shelter home employees.
“We stayed there for a few hours and we were given some food and water. But when some residents started arguing with officials in the shelter home, we decided to leave. We did not want to cause any trouble and stay in a place where our own safety is at risk,” Preeti said. The duo is now housed with a non-governmental organization in the locality.
Such complaints of discrimination by occupants of shelter homes is not new, social activists working with the transgender community in the city said.
Ever since the lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March to control the spread of the infectious Covid-19 disease, the sources of income of many members of the transgender community such as sex work, begging, and ‘mangti’ — a traditional occupation during weddings and other celebrations — have dried up.
“The transgender community has been hit hard by the pandemic. Many are either sex workers or used to ask for money in traffic junctions and that has stopped now. We have received some complaints that the occupants of some shelter homes objected to sharing space with transgender persons,” said Sumukhi Deka, a Delhi-based activist.
Deka said that Saransh, an organization she has co-founded, has accommodated three transgender women who faced trouble in a shelter home in east Delhi. They faced threats and were subjected to physical violence by other occupants due to which they left.
Last week, a similar incident was reported from west Delhi’s Rohini, where a transgender woman was asked to vacate a shelter home by its residents. Though the officials intervened and attempted to resolve the matter, the transperson left the following morning and the shelter home is currently unaware of her whereabouts.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, the national convener at National Forum for Homeless Housing Rights (NFHHR) said that aim of shelter homes is to ensure that occupants are safe and provided with a comfortable facility, however, unless there is awareness of issues pertaining to gender dysphoria, the stigmatization against transpersons will continue to pose problems for them.
“We had rescued four transgender persons a few days ago from near the New Delhi railway station and after spending a night at the shelter home, the District Magistrate made alternative arrangements for them,” Aledia said. The four had tickets for Gujarat dated May 15.
“Since that shelter home was only for men and we had no other option but to make some arrangement for the night, our volunteers stood at the gate all night to ensure that they were safe. The next morning we moved them to our office in south Delhi and they will board the train to Surat on Friday. There are no dedicated shelter facilities for transgender persons and we have raised this issue multiple times with the government,” Aledia said.
A senior official of the district administration said that transgender persons are usually relocated with NGOs to ensure their safety.
“We want to ensure that these people are safe. Many occupants in homeless facilities have a limited understanding [of issues pertaining to transgender communities]. To prevent any physical and sexual crime against transgender persons, it is important that they be moved to alternative facilities,” the official said.
Rudrani Chettri, who spearheads trans rights group Mitr Trust said that the community is severely affected by the pandemic. “We have been distributing food packets and groceries to homeless transgender persons who have no means to earn for themselves now. But they are not receiving any benefit from the government. Many don’t have ration cards and government documents,” Chettri said.