On October 6, a transgender woman filed a complaint against two police officials in Delhi’s Connaught Place police station and alleged that they had physically assaulted and raped her in 2012. In the complaint, she also stated that she was regularly harassed by police officials in Connaught Place, the Capital’s prime business and shopping hub.
The complaint shows how members of the transgender community are still vulnerable to harassment by the police almost a month after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise consensual homosexual acts, and four years after the National Legal Services Authority judgement that recognised the rights of the transgender community. Before it was read down, Section 377, was one of the laws used by the police to harass members of the transgender community.
“Two policemen dragged me to a room in Palika Bazaar and raped me there [in 2012],” said the complainant Uma (name changed to protect her identity). She added that these policemen had also snatched away her mobile phone and cash worth Rs 8,500.
In the complaint, Uma also stated that on October 3 a policeman identified as Sachin verbally abused her and threatened to take her to the police station and lock her up. “I was just sitting next to the Rajiv Chowk metro station and he said he didn’t want to see me there again,” said the 38-year-old.
In addition, on September 9, just three days after the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict on Section 377, Uma said that she and her friend, also a transgender woman, were physically assaulted by a policeman after he stopped them from begging next to the Rajiv Chowk metro station.
Vinod Narag, the station house officer at the police station, said that the “enquiry process has begun”.
In August, the Delhi High Court had decriminalised begging in the city. During the hearing in May, the court asked how begging could be a crime in a country where the government did not ensure that everyone got food or jobs.
Uma came to Delhi 10 years ago from Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and earns Rs 6,000 a month working as a sex worker. She said that she was initially scared to approach the police but decided to file a complaint so that other members from her community do not face similar harassment. “I can also be strong,” she said. “If I file, then the police will also be scared of us. I want that my other sisters should also live a better life. We want the Delhi government and the Supreme Court to protect us. Police has committed many atrocities against us. We are also human beings.”
Instances of police brutality against the transgender community are not uncommon.
In its landmark National Legal Services Authority judgement of 2014, the Supreme Court recognised the identity of the transgender community for the first time, formally creating a “third gender” category for its members. In that judgment, the court invoked the spirit of the Indian Constitution to make a passionate case for the rights of transgender people. It recognised them as a socially and economically backward class, and acknowledging that the community is subject to violence in India, said they must have access to justice.
Despite this judgment, a suitable legislation to protect the rights of the transgender community is yet to come into effect. There is a bill called the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 pending in Parliament, but activists feel it will do more harm than good.
Bittu K, a transgender rights activist and associate professor at Ashoka University, said that while there were several instances of police brutality against members of the transgender community, there were still no safety nets in place such as employment opportunities, healthcare and access to shelter. He said the Section 377 judgment was one step in a continuing battle.
“The police use different laws such as Section 420 which deals in cheating and dishonesty,” Bittu K said. “Police violence in this context mostly hinges on the police’s assumed social sanction in policing class, caste and gender. The reading down of [Section] 377 is certainly a step in progress, but it can be seen as a large dent in the structure of homophobia only to those who think in theory and do not experience homophobia in conjunction with homelessness, denial of employment.”