Last month, a transgender woman, Udhaya, was attacked in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district by her partner’s family. His parents abducted her and beat her while hurling casteist slurs, leaving her with injuries and trauma. That Udhaya came from a Scheduled Caste (SC) background while her attackers were Nadar, a dominant Other Backward Class (OBC) community added to her vulnerability.
Such acts of violence are commonplace against the transgender community despite a slew of directives by high courts (HCs), the 2014 landmark judgment by the Supreme Court and a legislation passed three years ago to safeguard their rights. Awareness of laws is lacking at the grassroots level. This, coupled with a lack of hard data on crimes against the community and social apathy, creates a culture of silence around transphobic violence.
The 2019 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act mandates that crimes against members of the community must be punished by a jail term between six months and two years. While this is far lower than the punishment for crimes against women, implementation too is patchy. Many police officials are unaware of the Act, and activists have to routinely call officials to invoke provisions of the Act.
Moreover, local policemen often ask for documentation to prove the victim is a transgender person before filing a case under the Act. This insistence on documentation is problematic and self-defeating. Justice for transgender people cannot be contingent on documentation.
The one big change since the 2014 Nalsa vs Union of India judgment has been in awareness levels about the existence of transgender people. Regrettably, this awareness has not birthed any empathy for the community. Most police officials continue to have patriarchal attitudes. Therefore, orders such as those by the Madras HC to raise police awareness, and steps to ban police harassment of queer people are important. It would make a world of difference if the constable at the local police station – the first point of contact – knew how to address our issues, which provisions to use, and, most of all, treated us as full human beings.
In the last decade, transgender rights has made big strides – attaining government recognition, judgments by courts, and increased space in popular culture and politics. But many steps have remained limited to welfare, government assistance and helplines. More attention needs to be given to ensuring strong action for every instance of transphobic violence. This will help community members access education, health care and employment – sites where violence, bias and discrimination continue to be rampant.
Transgender people who are Dalit or Adivasi bear the brunt of caste-based violence as well. In Udhaya’s case, we were able to invoke the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the dominant caste people who attacked her. Transgender people from marginalised backgrounds need more protections to ensure that they can access special laws meant to safeguard their social vulnerabilities. April marks both the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Constitution, and the landmark judgment by the apex court that upheld transgender rights. It is time transpeople are able to access the full gamut of rights as full citizens of the country.
Grace Banu is a Dalit transgender activist and founder of Trans Rights Now Collective
The views expressed are personal
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