Kashmir’s Transgender Community: Deserted by families, denied rights by society!
Unlike in many parts across the world, the ‘International Transgender Day of Visibility’ on March 31, passed quietly in Kashmir. The day is observed to bring a day of ‘visibility’ for the transgender community and raise awareness against the discrimination that the people of the community face in their day-to-day life.
But in Jammu and Kashmir, the miseries faced by this marginalized community are rarely talked about. This is despite that the region having a population of as many as 4,137 persons (including 487 from the 0-6 age group) who have been struggling for their social and economic rights for quite a long time (according to the census 2011).
The J&K high court is presently hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking basic and the constitutional rights for the transgender community in the UT. The community members have also formed an organisation called ‘Sonzal Welfare Trust’. The NGO has been working for the betterment of the community for the past few years. Its struggle, however, seems to be going in vain because their problems are primarily rooted in the mental makeup of the overall society.
Experts say that the transgender people in J&K face brutal discrimination and victimization in every sphere of life. Those who are aware of these problems say that the members of the community face harassment, verbal abuse, physical and sexual violence, bullying, and so on every now and then. Even in some cases, transgender persons are victimized by their own families to the extent that they are denied property rights. In some cases they don’t have even the right to be buried in the ancestral graveyards after they pass away. Also, they face difficulties while accessing health care services and education. Due to all these reasons, experts say, the transgender people mostly experience disproportionately high levels of mental health conditions. Since most of the transgender people are abandoned and disowned by their own families, they prefer to live in rented accommodations in cities and towns in groups. Srinagar city has many such accommodations in various areas.
To understand the whole scenario about the issues and problems facing the marginalized transgender community in J&K, KASHMIR IMAGE spoke with some concerned people. They emphasize that government and society has to play a vital role to ensure the rights of the marginalized transgender community are protected and they are empowered. They say that everyone needs to understand the fact that a transgender person may not have inherent sense of being a male or a female, but they are humans, and need to be treated with dignity and grace.
Here are the excerpts:
In 2008, as a college student, I came across some case studies and realized that Kashmir’s transgender people are facing injustice and suppression in every sphere of our society. I was perturbed when I saw my own mother’s behavior towards a transgender person who had visited our house, as we were looking for a nuptial match for my sister those days. By the time I completed my post-graduation, I had decided to work for the rights of the dejected and isolated community of transgender in Kashmir. Since then, I have been working and fighting for the legal and social rights of transgender people.
In 2017, I along with some other people who also work for the transgender community, approached J&K high court with a PIL seeking fundamental rights for the community. The case is still lingering in the court, but the court has passed some interim orders for the benefit of these people. For instance, the court has asked the government to recognize transgender as a ‘third gender’. This has happened for the first time in J&K. In another order, the court directed the Housing and Urban Development Department to start issuing birth and death certificates for the people belonging to the third gender in a hassle-free manner. Earlier, people from this community would not get these documents.
Similarly, an interim order from the court has ensured that election cards are issued to transgender people. Also, educational institutions were asked to keep the third gender option in the admission forms. But, all this is not enough to empower transgender people. We seek education and job reservations for the community.
The transgender people are subjected to physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal violence every now and then. The transgender children end up dropping out of school because of humiliating behavior by the people. For them, the biggest bullies are usually from their own families. In most cases, the existence of a transgender is considered a threat to family honour. That is the reason why most transgender persons are thrown out of their ancestral houses. They mostly are denied property rights by their siblings and even by their parents. In many cases, they don’t have a space for burial in their ancestral graveyards. For a transgender, the cycle of humiliation starts from its birth to death. All rights that a human being is entitled to are violated when it comes to a transgender persons. Their rights of survival, protection and development are compromised throughout their lives.
From birth to death, these people crave for love and affection that is denied to them at every step. When they get older, they become liability for everyone. I have a number of case studies, wherein I have seen transgender people suffering like stray animals. In 2019, a 90 years old transgender person suffering from Alzheimer dementia was lying on the road near the UN office in Srinagar for about 20 days in minus temperature. We took the abandoned person to the hospital, but the hospital authorities refused to admit him. They said that the protocol did not allow them to admit an Alzheimer dementia patient with no one accompanying him or her. In another case, some seven years ago, we found a transgender person dead on the roadside in Srinagar. A part of his body was burnt by the Kangri (firepot) and a part of his body was mauled by the stray dogs.
Last year a transgender person died in a rented accommodation in Srinagar. When we approached his family, they refused to claim the body. They even refused to allow his burial in their family graveyard. Finally, his sister agreed to take the body on the condition that no person from the transgender community visits her house. Five six years ago a trans woman was raped by six drug addicts in a public park in Srinagar. I approached the police. I was shocked when an official told me that since the person was transgender, it was supposed to be raped and sodomized.
I can go on and on with such stories. My book “Hijras of Kashmir” was published in 2017. I have documented several case studies in my book.
I feel sad to see that people are not ready even to talk about these issues. Journalists don’t cover these stories. But I will continue working for the basic rights of the marginalized transgender community.
I have been working for the rights of the transgender community since 2011. Earlier, we tried to seek certain guidelines for the betterment of this community from the (erstwhile) State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). But our efforts at SHRC failed, first because the body was headless for quite a long time; and when the new chairperson was appointed, he was unable to deliver on our petition. Finally, we were told to withdraw from the institution to find some other means to ensure justice for the community.
Then, in 2017, we approached J&K high court with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking basic rights for the transgender community. Since then, we have been waiting for the final judgment, though we have got some interim orders in favour of transgender people. However, these court directions are yet to be implemented on the ground. For instance, the court has asked educational institutions to include the ‘transgender’ column in admission, and examination forms. This has not happened yet.
Unlike in the other parts of the country, in J&K there are no gender identity columns for the transgender people when it comes to filling out the application forms for the studies and jobs. This is making transgender people ineligible for attaining education and striving for white-collar jobs. In our part of the world, much is being talked about the rights of men and women, but nobody bothers to talk about the rights of the people from this marginalized community. Transgender people are not being given equal rights in Kashmir. I feel sad to see that even well-educated people are not ready to take up the issues of this community. For instance, when we were preparing to file PIL in court, no lawyer was ready to present our litigation in court. That is why our case is not represented by a lawyer. We tried to consult a number of lawyers but none of them was ready to represent the transgender community. Some of them inquired whether we were also among the same community because they didn’t believe that a normal man or a woman can present him or herself for the cause of the transgender community. I have seen people mocking us for our work for this marginalized community. This is not the case outside Kashmir. I have been in several states across the country, and I have found that everyone in these states gives due respect to transgender people. But back home I have found transgender people completely isolated and marginalized in every sphere of our society.
We have been working continuously for the rights of these people; nobody seems to be ready to join us in our struggle though. But I am sure we will succeed to bring mass awareness about the issues related to transgender people. We are looking forward to a final judgment from the court in favor of this marginalized community. They are humans and deserve due respect and basic rights.
Almighty has created us the way we are. This is not our choice but God’s will. Some people understand this and some don’t. Those who don’t, leave no chance to humiliate us and abuse us. A transgender starts facing a life full of discrimination and suppression soon after he or she is born. Most of the people from our community are abandoned and disowned by their families. We stay in rented accommodations in various parts of Srinagar city and other towns of the Valley.
The biggest problem that people from our community are facing is poverty. We lack sustained means of income. Most of us earn either by singing and dancing at the marriage functions or by working as matchmakers. But these are not sustainable means of livelihood. Arranged marriage concept is fading in our society now. Most people go for love marriages, thus no need for matchmakers. Similarly, people prefer to invite young singers, who have been coming up for the past few years in the Valley, to sing during weddings and other parties. We are fast losing our traditional means of livelihood. During the past two years of pandemic, we have suffered a lot. However, some people from society came forward to help us in those tough times. There are both good and bad people in our society. Good people are always helpful to us. That is why I personally have no grudges against people because I found many of them compassionate and nice. However, the government has always been hard-hearted towards us.
Mehbooba Mufti (PDP-BJP government) had announced some good measures to uplift the transgender community. We were told that each member of our community would get free life and medical insurance; BPL cards; a monthly pension of Rs. 3000 and so on. But all these announcements proved to be Hukm-i-Nawab ta dar-i-Nawab (The ruler’s orders are obeyed not beyond his doors).
Transgender people have been coming to us for treating coexisting depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. However, of late, we had a few cases that came for assessment for eligibility for hormonal and surgical treatments at the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS). We have sanitized the whole system for them to ensure that they feel welcome here. In fact, I recently held a workshop at my own unit wherein we discussed how sensitive we should be while treating transgender people. They must feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and inner feelings with our experts. And, unlike other health experts, they do feel comfortable with mental health experts because we do not judge them. At our spaces, they feel very safe and thus don’t hesitate to share their feeling with us. Although the number of transgender people who visit us for treating their mental health issues is not high, some of them indeed come frequently.
Almighty Allah has created every human being as equal. He does not discriminate between genders. And we are told to respect every human being. Islam does not teach us discrimination on the basis of gender. We all are humans and we must know that it is the Almighty’s will to create us the way we are. Thus, we should not judge people on the basis of their gender. Transgender people are part and parcel of our society and they deserve respect and all the basic rights in our society. They are part of our civilization and culture. I would appeal to the people that stop isolating transgender people in society. People must allow them to be part of various social and economic activities. It is God’s will that He has made them this way. In Islam, we are told that humans irrespective of their gender, caste, and class are equals. I feel sad when I see that sometimes transgender people are even denied their property rights by their families. This is an offense in the eyes of Sharia. They cannot be denied their property rights. God is merciful and compassionate, thus we people also should be merciful and compassionate with each other irrespective of the gender.
In my professional career I have had interaction with some people from the transgender community. And, I have found that a transgender person is always grappling with the problems related to his or her gender identity. Most of them are abandoned by their own families. Then, they find themselves isolated and marginalised in the society. This makes a transgender person always vulnerable to the phonological and mental health issues. When a transgender child is born and family members found about its sexual identity, they start hating him or her as if the child is responsible to choose this identity. And, when the child starts growing he or she finds people behaving strangely. They experience rejection, harassment, and discrimination in every sphere of the society.
For a psychologist, or a mental health counsellor, it is not easy to console and tranquil a transgender who is grappling with psychological issues. I personally believe that unless society changes its behaviour towards the transgender community, the members of this community will continue grappling with the psychological and mental health issues. As a society, we must understand that the Almighty has created them like this and they deserve the equal respect and honour as any of us does.