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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM (IST)

Despite SC breather, LGBTs face stigma, police inaction

Aparna Banerji in Jalandhar
Despite SC breather, LGBTs face stigma, police inaction
LGBT community members participate in Pride Walk in Kolkata. File Photo: PTI

Aparna Banerji in Jalandhar

A couple of days before the civic elections in December last year, a city-based transgender was chased by a man brandishing a ‘daat’ (sharp weapon) after she refused sexual favour to him. When the victim approached a police station, she was, instead, asked why she was out at such late hours. After other members of the community gathered at the station, a case was registered, not of sexual harassment, but of carrying a weapon during the election code of conduct.

The Supreme Court earlier this week said it would revisit the 2013 verdict upholding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing consensual gay sex. This made the LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) community breathe a little easy. In another observation in August 2017, the apex court had said: “Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual,” said the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling in August 2017.

Yet things for the underrepresented, relegated-to-the-sidelines LGBT community in the district remain largely unchanged. The members in the region are regularly targeted for physical violence, ostracized and judged on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender. The situation in Jalnadhar can be eye-opener: activists cite over 100 cases of violence against the members of the LGBT community in the past one year. Of these, only five-six have been reported with the local police. In none of these has any FIR been lodged.

Most of these cases go unreported because of the stigma attached with their gender and profession. In many cases, the members of the community are too scared to approach the police, fearing a backlash or victimization. Most of the late-night complaints, members say, have been met with a counter-question from the police: “What were you doing out so late in the night?”

Of the 1,200 members registered with the Shaan Foundation in Jalandhar -- the only NGO keeping tabs on a bustling and ever-growing LGBT community in the city – 60 per cent are sex workers. Of the total the LGBT community count, 913 are gay and 200 are transgenders. Over 30 of them are HIV-positive, yet many of them continue in the profession.

Over a month, transgender named ‘A’ (real identity can’t be revealed under law) was a victim in two incidents involving assaults by a group of men. In September last year, she was assaulted and robbed of Rs 500 and a mobile phone when she refused a sexual favour to a group of men. In August, she was chased by 10 men as she scurried across the city streets changing three autos to escape them, before being rescued by men in a car who clashed with the assaulters.

Last month, another community member’s hand was almost chopped after she refused a sexual favour to a client.

‘B’ (18), a member of the gay community (now a sex worker), quit school after a teacher began making sexual overtures to him for being too effeminate. A couple of months ago, he was dragged into a car with 10 men and raped, before being dropped off the vehicle with a Rs 100 note, which, the victim says, he threw back at them. ‘B’ says in the past too he has been attacked by masked men who later turned out to be his own neighbours in his village.

Deepak Rana, CEO of the Jalandhar-based Shaan Foundation, which works for the rights of the LGBTs, says: “No matter what the court says, the approach of the police and society remains unchanged. The people have a habit of thrusting their whims on the members of the community.” 

Commissioner of Police, Jalandhar, Praveen Sinha, says the police are aware about the problems. “We will soon devise a strategy…we’d also sensitize our own men and women.” ACP Crime Deepika Singh says the police would like to hold a series of meetings with the LGBT community members to ascertain the problems. As for complaints, I am certain any complaint made at the official level won’t go unheard. It’s just that they need to get in touch with the right officer. The police are willing to take steps.”

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