Shed biased attitudes towards trans people
We can get out of this cycle of shame and fear. We only need some help — from society, government and ordinary people
In the spring of 2021, some activists and I started a shelter home for transgender people on the western fringes of the Capital, Sitapuri. Established under the Union social justice ministry’s Support for Marginalised Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise (Smile) programme, the centre became a node of hope for transgender individuals who ran away from abusive homes and years of ridicule, mockery and often direct violence. Of course, such shelters always existed — in Delhi, at least since 2005 — but the backing of the government law gave confidence to scared young trans people that the police and their families would not dare drag them away from their peers and friends. It gave legitimacy to lives that were criminalised not too long ago.
In some aspects, the shelter homes have been great successes. With the passage of the 2019 transgender rights bill, the garima greh have received statutory backing. Programmes to help trans persons gain skills, guarantee of lodging, medical support and counselling, employment initiatives and a more nurturing environment have helped many trans persons recover from depression, earn incomes and find stability in their lives.
Despite these strides, however, we face three hurdles. One is the continued hostility of neighbours and local people, and their refusal to grant us land to set up these facilities. Pervasive bias makes it impossible for them to imagine that a building standing amid their homes can house trans people. The erroneous connection made between transgender communities and criminality continues to be rife, and is manifested in our everyday interactions with them — at the markets, in schools, on the roads and in public spaces. If the government wants transgender people to be better rehabilitated, it will have to intervene more forcefully to stop such discrimination.
The second is the attitude of the police. In two recent cases, local policemen barged into a garima greh on the complaint of a family member of a trans person, dragged them away to the station and beat up activists who tried to stop them. Despite our remonstrations, the policemen couldn’t believe that facilities housing trans people could have government backing and they resorted to mocking our gender, pronouns and names, refusing to use them. Any protest was met with harshly.
The third is the usage of laws. Though the transgender rights bill instituted protections for the community, parents and relatives have resorted to using a gamut of other laws, such as abduction and rape, to file charges against transgender persons running away, and anyone who helps them. A desensitised police force automatically favours the natal family and forcibly brings the transgender person in contact with their abusive families. This is particularly harsh in the case of transgender men, who are misgendered in police complaints and compelled to be produced under women’s protection laws. Questions of family honour often motivate such action.
There is little that government schemes can do to help our lives in the absence of any action to deal with such challenges. Awareness must not only begin in childhood, with schools teaching children about transgender people and their existence, but also be coded into police and institutional training so that the authorities shed discriminatory attitudes towards us. We can get out of this cycle of shame and fear. We only need some help — from society, government and ordinary people.
Rudrani Chhetri is director, Mitr Trust The views expressed are personal.