History is testimony to the fact that the wrongs done by a few people in a certain group come to be seen as defining factors for the rest of the group. The Hijras (traditional South Asian term for people born males who identify either as women or as a third gender) of Bangalore are living the curse as they’re stigmatized and seen as repulsive by people, so much so that most children, and even adults are greatly irked, and even scared by their mere appearance. Not just this, they continue to be wrongly arrested, detained and harassed by the police on the grounds that one of their fellow members is guilty of misbehavior.
Arbitrary arrests and detention of the hijras have become common fare in the city, with an alarming number of hijras being taken to the beggars’ colony every day, despite not having been caught begging or performing any act that renders them guilty under the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act, 1975. In several instances, they were even picked up right from the safety of their own homes and brought to these colonies, made for the purpose of rehabilitation of beggars. However, the stark truth is that these colonies serve no purpose other than the ghettoisation of stigmatized communities in the name of ‘social cleansing’.
Looked down upon and refused a place of dignity and respect in the society, the hijras encounter a complete absence of job opportunities that will earn them a respectful livelihood. Even the government cannot be relied on to help them due to the existence of regressive laws such as the notorious Section 377 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. On one hand, the rights of hijras and transgenders are being legally recognized in the country, while on the other hand, Section 377 is still widely supported. This conspicuous discontinuity in the government’s behavior in matters related to the community is the reason the hijras cannot trust the government to give them a respectable life, and thus are left with no option but to survive on alms.
However, the Karnataka Prevention of Beggary Act, 1975 criminalizes anyone who’s caught begging or is seen as likely to be surviving on alms making it all the more difficult for the hijras to earn their living and pushing them into the sex trade.
The unfounded fear and disgust for the hijras does nothing to help. The unorganized nature of the trade and the risky work conditions often lead to them contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV AIDS, which leads to further deterioration of the quality of their life. They’re seen as objects to achieve sexual gratification and not as human beings with emotions and agency.
For several years now, the police-supposedly the protectors of the people- have been at odds with the community, arresting, detaining and torturing them for no valid reason. The hijras thus arrested are also denied a proper hearing in a court of law, leaving them with no chance to prove their innocence. If the blatant harassment and torture isn’t enough, they’re called derogatory names and denied even basic necessities such as water and clothing. The police will stop at nothing to punish the hijras for crimes they haven’t even committed, booking them for irrelevant offences and criminalizing them instead of providing them much needed rehabilitation.
Despite having the largest presence of hijras in the world, India isn’t in the least bit supportive towards them. The people of the country, be it the government, the judiciary, the policy or the general public, make it unthinkable to exist as a transgender in the country, marginalizing them and subjecting them to unwarranted jibes, disdain and abuse.
What we tend to forget is that we’re in no place to deny a fellow human the right to live a dignified and respectful life. Letting criminals roam free and choosing to criminalize innocent people instead will lead us nowhere. We’re all people, we’re all equal. And in the world’s largest democracy that India claims to be, who are we to decide how someone else gets to live?