Listen to this article:
Chennai: Twenty-six-year-old trans woman Udaya, from Panakudi in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, is still recovering from the grievous injuries inflicted upon her by her boyfriend’s family. However, she holds tight to her wishes. They are simple. “I wish to wear churidaar and night dress. I cannot do it as long as I am in my parental home,” she says, often breaking into tears recounting her ordeal.
“They hit me for calling her athai (a term used to address mother-in-law). They used all kinds of slurs against me including vulgar terms for transgender persons and casteist slurs.” Udaya belongs to the Dalit community.
On March 24, the family of 22-year-old Bala Anand took her away in a vehicle and assaulted her for falling in love with their son. “His father flashed me and told me to sleep with him. His mother physically abused me.”
Udaya and Bala Anand had been in love for about six months. A case of assault against the accused was filed under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 – the first such case in Tamil Nadu registered under the Act. A case was also registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
“There is little awareness about the [Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights)] Act among the police. Incidents like this keep happening. There needs to be sensitisation training for [the police on] this Act,” says trans activist Grace Banu, who fought for Udaya’s case.
Sowbarnika, a 30-year-old trans woman who is also Udaya’s foster mother, says she was living with her parents and would occasionally visit them. “She would always be happy when she visits us because she can be herself. She can wear night dresses and salwars. Before the incident, Udaya had visited us because I had met with an accident and she wanted to take care of me. She was with us for three days before this incident happened. I had filed a missing person’s complaint in Koodankulam police station when Udaya went missing and received a call from them saying she has been found. The cops had sent her off in a lorry. When we saw her, her face was swollen and her back had fresh footprints.”
The police have arrested two persons and are yet to arrest three main accused in connection with the case. Sowbarnika says three different lawyers have already approached them to work out a compromise. “But we are determined, we won’t let this go. This will be the first case to be filed under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and they will be the first family to be arrested under it.”
Tirunelveli superintendent of police P. Saravanan says a team was sent to Kerala to look out for the remaining accused persons. However, they later found out that the accused are likely in Chennai. “We have just received information that they are in Chennai and we have sent a team there. We hope to get them arrested in the next couple of days and have some progress on the case and on the compensation front.”
Admitting that the police were not familiar with the Act, Saravanan says there had been a gender sensitisation programme last week in which handling the cases of trans persons was also covered. “It is a recent Act, but we are taking steps to sensitise the police.”
Tirunelveli district collector V. Vishnu also says all the ground-level departments will be sensitised about the issues of trans persons. “Immediately after this incident, we had a small symposium with the transgender community and NGOs working in the space. We will soon have exclusive trans persons grievance days once in three months. We have also started coaching classes for trans people to get government jobs. As far as this case is concerned, the police are actively tracking down the remaining accused and they will soon arrest them.”
Udaya’s livelihood had also been affected since the assault. A Kaniyan Koothu (a folk-dance form performed in temples) artist, Udaya had been earning Rs 3,000 every week. “She saved up all the money from such performances and bought herself a smartphone. The family had taken it away. The phone has evidence of her conversations with Bala Anand’s family and her relationship with him. She is still very shocked about the entire incident,” says Sowbarnika.
Grace Banu says the society’s conspiratorial silence over the indignity and violence suffered by trans people needs to be broken. “If the same atrocity had been faced by a cis person, it would have had a national impact. No progressive politics – social justice and feminist – can be complete without the total liberation of trans persons. No fight for equality will be complete without the liberation of trans persons.”