Kokila takes me to her sisters’ hamam (bath house) near Bannerghatta Road. Selvi, Mini, Anitha, Amulya and Muthulakshmi welcome me, immediately apologising for not having any lights or fans inside. The hamam itself is very small, with barely any space to lie down. They offer me something to drink. I decline their offer. They request me to not write anything wrong about them. I assure them that I will only write what they tell me and not fabricate their statements.
Selvi, 33, who lives on Bannerghatta Road, says even they are harassed when they go begging.“If we go into a bar, they ask us if our breasts are original or duplicate. They touch our breasts. They threaten us,” she says. Kokila says they need to be treated with respect. “Will anyone touch a girl’s chest?” she asks. Selvi says they make it a point to not force shopkeepers to give them money. “We have an understanding. We tell them not to fight. These days more action is taken. They’ll put us in jail. It is better to take what money you get than be in jail,” she says.
In her mid-20s, Mini says she has often been teased by college students. “The students tease us. But if we complain, they start screaming saying we tried to steal their cell phones or tried to have sex with them,” she complains. Mini, who moved to Bangalore from Kolar Gold Fields around ten years ago, narrates an incident when she went to a condiments store in JP Nagar. When the shopkeeper refused to give her and her sisters money, they asked for some chips to eat. The shopkeepers started beating us, she says. “We wanted to go to the cops but they will take action against us only,” she says.
Twenty-year-old hijra Anitha says shopkeepers say they will give money only if we show our private parts to them. “They throw stones at us. They scold us. They have even thrown tomatoes and eggs at us,” she says.
Citizen Matters spoke to K P Deepak, Inspector, JP Nagar police station, who says they haven’t received any complaint from shopkeepers with regard to the hijras. “I have heard that this problem is there on Nanda Road. You can speak to the Jayanagar police station. Hijras are said to go there in the night time near the parks. We have not received any complaint. This is a general society problem. They shouldn’t trouble anyone. What can the police do? If we get a complaint, we’ll take action,” Deepak says. The police inspector asked me if I have received any complaints from JP Nagar shopkeepers about this problem.
On questioning the shopkeepers as to why they had not filed any complaint, there were some mixed responses. “Cops don’t take these cases because they can’t make any money out of this,” says Chengappa. Mohammad Ali Thanzil of the Aashirvad Departmental store in JP Nagar 2nd Phase says other shopkeepers do not cooperate even if they want to do something jointly.
Government intervention – underneath the layers
Chairman of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes (KSCBC), Dr C S Dwarakanath says the main problem is that hijras and kothis do not have an identity till today.
“Forms only have male or female. I want to give them an identity. The commission wants to look into this and study them in detail, put them in categories and see where they fit,” he says. Dr Dwarakanath said that once sexual minorities are given an identity, they could get benefits from the government like ration cards, medical, reservations and so on.
The victimisation of the hijra community has been documented in several reports. In 2003, the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K) brought out the “Human Rights violations against the transgender community” report based on a study of kothi and hijra sex workers in Bangalore. The report including narrations of police brutality on hijras in the city was translated into Kannada. Arvind Narrain of Alternative Law Forum (ALF), a Bangalore-based lawyers’ collective, was the co-author of the report. Narrain says that that the PUCL-K report changed the way cops see transgenders. It has made them slightly nervous, he says.
Referring further to legal lacuna, Narrain says, “This is a human rights issue that can no longer be ignored. The law conditions the way the police perceive transgenders. They look at it as ‘animal-like’ and ‘dirty’ in terms of behaviour. Therefore, they deal with them that way.” Narrain says the ALF is working closely with regard to repealing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code because it denies constitutional rights to sexual minorities. For his part, Dwarakanath says the KSCBC is thinking of an Act for the Scheduled Castes like Prevention of Atrocities. “We want to bring out an Act for them. I have spoken to National Law School,” he says.
Respect for respect
Coming back to the troubles faced by JP Nagar’s shopkeepers, even as some members of the hijra community agree that there are some hijras who harass people, use profane language, make obscene gestures and even make sexual advances, they say they do not endorse the same. Kokila says because of these people who misbehave, the ‘good’ people of their community are affected. “We will take how much money you give. We need to have an understanding. We will respect you just as you respect us. The public treats us worse than dogs,” she says.
Selvi says she wants people to understand that they are like anyone else. She says, “We do our work, you do your work. We also have brothers and sisters. They shouldn’t tease us. The public should keep quiet. We will be happy.”
Sangama holds weekly meetings for their members, at all their nine offices in the city, during which they advise their members not to indulge in such behaviour. “Sangama does not support hijras harassing and attacking people, lifting saris, giving shaapas (curses). Every Sunday we have a meeting where people come and share their problems. We motivate them. We have knowledge building and capacity building,” says Akkai. They also have a crisis group which consists of about 10-15 members who are available on stand-by 24/7 to support the hijras in case of emergencies.
In the meantime, the shopkeepers at JP Nagar are a glum lot. Chengappa agrees that jobs for hijras are the issue. He says they should work in a factory instead of begging for money. Umesh of The Mobile Store says they have spoken to some shops and are thinking of giving a formal complaint. Karthik, on the other hand, plans to take matters into his own hands, by deputing a security guard for his gym.