A powerful ongoing photography exhibition at Sakshi art gallery in Mumbai is portraying the lives of India’s transgender community as part of the international 16 Days of Activism campaign with the theme “Orange the World”.
The show — which opened on the first day of the campaign — is presented by UN Women, Istituto Italiano di cultura, Consulate General of Italy Mumbai, and the active help of Color Positive, and The Humsafar Trust.
Says show curator Diana Linda, “Photographer Domenico Pugliese and I started to work on this project in February 2019 with the purpose of giving voice to the stigmatized lives and struggles of transgender, transwomen, non-binary individuals and crossdressers. Domenico shot their pictures and I interviewed them.” These have translated into 20 photo-portraits and pieces of poetry and video which attempt to… well, orange the world.
“All the people we met had to display extreme courage just for being themselves. It takes a lot of guts to go against the weight of a conservative society. Some of them can’t be themselves all the time because their family just doesn’t accept them wearing dresses instead of trousers. Some others had to leave their family or were thrown out,” adds the Mumbai-based Italian designer.
Violence against people in the trans community takes on more sinister proportions when you delve into the statistics.
Violence Against Trans-persons
Unlike crimes against men, women and children, the Indian government does not publish annual statistics about crimes against transgender people. Data is usually gathered by NGOs, and a survey last year revealed that 40% of transgender people faced some sort of sexual abuse in India before turning 18. The survey, conducted by Bengaluru-based NGO Swasti Health Resource Centre interviewed 2,169 transgender people in three states: Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It concluded that sexual abuse begins as early as age five, and continues beyond childhood.
“The Indian constitution does not discriminate, but its keepers certainly do. Of the transgender people registered with us, at least one in four has been a victim of rape, gang-rape or serious sexual violence. And of these, only 10 per cent were successful in getting official complaints registered with the police. Most of them were deterred with the same question: you’re neither male nor female; how can you be raped?” says Salma Khan, 40, a transgender woman and president of Mumbai-based NGO, Kinnar Maa Trust which works with the trans community.
Transgender woman Khushi (she underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2010) was asked the same question when she tried to register an offence after she was raped by three policemen. Authorities at first refused to believe her gruesome tale of custodial torture, she says. Her complaint was lodged six days after she was assaulted – and only after her cause was taken up by influential LGBT activists and medical reports confirmed she was raped.
Trans Bill adds to problem
The Upper House of the Parliament on Tuesday passed the controversial Transgender Persons Protection Bill. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, supposedly meant for the empowerment of transgenders, was moved for consideration and passage in Rajya Sabha by Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot.
The draft bill is facing opposition from the community as it still upholds the humiliating process of submitting an application to District Magistrate for legal recognition of one’s transgender identity. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 postulates that sexual violence against transgender persons will face punishment from 6 months to 2 years, in comparison with the 7 years of imprisonment for sexual violence against women. It also requires transgender people to reside with their birth families. The bill denies a transgender person as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth.
LGBTQ activists held an urgent press conference earlier today to address what’s wrong with the bill. Members of the trans, hijra, and non binary communities, Labia – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective,Thane Queer Collective, TISS Queer Collective, and Forum Against Oppression of Women, People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan, opposed the Bill.
“As we have long been repeating, this is a poorly drafted Bill that does not take into account the lived realities of trans persons, nor does it “empower” us in any way, contrary to all the claims made by the govt. The Bill was passed without a single amendment, even though, in its current form, it can more aptly be described as the Transgender Persons (Violation of Rights) Bill, 2019.
Disappointment and betrayal are two words that do not even begin to cover what we are feeling at the prospect of having to live under a system that legtimises many levels of discrimination against entire communities. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 is against the letter as well as spirit of the NALSA judgment of 2014, and none of the nuances of living with non-mainstream gender identities that we have been working hard to convey to the (un)concerned authorities has even made a dent,” said one activist at the conference.
She added: “This was an opportunity for Rajya Sabha to pass an exemplary legislation that could have helped hundreds of thousands of us, but instead they chose to pass this Bill that has provisions to humiliate, harass and further marginalise trans* persons. We strongly condemn not just the fact that a Bill with these many problems was passed by the Rajya Sabha, but also the way it was passed. Repeated requests to send it to a select committee were ignored. Our lives were reduced to a losing match between loud ayes/ noes on one side and mostly empty benches on another.”
Generation equality opposes violence against the trans community. It’s time you identified with it too.