A report on human rights violations on the basis of sexuality and gender identity in South Asia has shown how deep-rooted attitudes continue to hurt sexual minorities
By Ramesh Menon
- When Sugandha told her parents that she was a male, they
thought that she had lost her mind. When gentle persuasion failed, they forcibly admitted her to a mental hospital. She was chained and administered injections against her will, leaving her heavily sedated for days. Her body was wracked with pain and had swellings. She was made to listen to devotional music and asked to “think like a girl”. After many days, she realized that the only way to get out of the hospital would be to pretend that she had started feeling like a girl again. It was the only way to negotiate her way back home. When she got back, she felt suffocated as there was pressure to keep proving that she was a female, not a male. As the harassment increased, Sugandha went to a police station to report it. The police refused to take action saying that it was a family matter.
- When Anand started working in a restaurant, the manager treated him in a very condescending manner as he found him effeminate. His colleagues also started humiliating him and threw derogatory terms and sexually laden comments at him. This made him very uncomfortable, forcing him to quit the job after a month. When he asked for his salary, he was abused by the manager and beaten up. He was never paid.
Violence against sexual and gender minorities is very common not only in India where tolerance and acceptance of transgenders are very low, but also in south Asia, according to a recent report by South Asian Human Rights Association. It said that the perpetrators are mainly members of the police, family and neighbors. Inclusion of sexual and gender minorities in national-level surveys on health, education and other indicators was one of the recommendations. It also urges sensitization of government officials.
The report by South Asian Human Rights Association revealed that violence and humiliation against sexual and gender minorities was unleashed mainly by the police, family members and neighbors.
Violations include extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrest, sexual assault and rape and serious discrimination in enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to health, education, livelihood, freedom of expression and public assembly. Obviously, it marginalizes large populations.
The report recommended the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which makes it punishable to have sexual intercourse against the order of nature. Siddharth Narrain, research associate, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, told India Legal: “Section 377 needs to be repealed. When Shashi Tharoor introduced the bill in parliament, it was not even listed for discussion.”
The report also asked for implementation of the NALSA judgment by the Supreme Court that guarantees transgender persons freedom from discrimination by the state, equal employment and opportunities to avail of education. It also recognized the citizenship of transgenders and the freedom of anyone to change their gender.
Shockingly, the police was found to lead among the perpetrators. When victims were transwomen, 69 percent of the perpetrators were policemen. The report has numerous case studies of how those with a different sexual orientation were subjected to humiliation and violence by family members, colleagues at the place of work and even the police.
Prejudices against sexual minorities run deep in our society. Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said: “We belong to a society that is built on discrimination and violence and we need to recognize this truth. We subject people to horrifying violence and need to reckon and accept that.”
Gayatri, a transgender from Andhra Pradesh said: “Just because we are different from others due to our sexual orientation, the police feel they have the right to treat us badly and humiliate us. We are often picked up by the police and they talk to us vulgarly and even try to touch us inappropriately. One constable kept poking me with his lathi saying that he was checking if I was a male or a female. We feel both angry and sad.”
Violations include extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrest, sexual assault and rape and serious discrimination in enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to health, education, livelihood, freedom of expression and public assembly.
Christy Raj, who underwent a sex change operation from female to male, said that those who had a different sexual orientation were forced into marriage by their families which led to more humiliation. Even doctors at health centers would make them strip in front of other medical staff and then verbally abuse them, he said.
The report recommended the following:
- Acknowledge and accept the existence of sexual and gender minorities in the country
- Reform punitive laws, policies and law enforcement practices to protect the rights of people who are marginalized due to their sexualities and genders
- Implement the directions laid down by the judicial system in order to recognize and fulfill the human rights of transgenders
- End impunity against those who commit violence and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities
- Recognize the need to support the promotion of human rights for sexual and gender minorities
- Highlight the human rights violations faced by sexual and gender minorities, and sensitize the general public on marginalized sexualities and genders
- Speak out against violence and enticement to violence by religious leaders.
- Repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code
Most countries in south Asia such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have retained sodomy laws originally imposed by the British on its colonies way back in 1860. These were written by Lord Macaulay and made same sex acts illegal. However, in most of the countries, this section of the penal code has seldom been used to file cases against offenders. But it is definitely used to intimidate and illegally detain sexual and gender minorities.
The report said that Section 377 was widely abused by law enforcement agencies for extortion, blackmail and abuse of gay men and transgenders, which included extraction of sexual favors. When will society learn to accept the different colors of the rainbow so that we have a more cohesive and tolerant world?
(Some names have been changed to protect identity)
Lead picture: Transgenders staging a demonstration in front of the police headquarters in Chennai to protest against alleged police harassment. Photo: UNI