The recent Madras High Court order, directing the police to refrain from harassing LGBTQIA+ activists, NGO and members of the community has set yet another milestone for the court and members of the queer community, say activists in Tamil Nadu.
Last week, the Madras High Court became the first court in the country to pass an order asking that a specific clause be added in the Police Conduct Rules providing that any harassment by them to the persons belonging to the LGBTQ+ community and/or to the activists and NGO workers, will be treated as misconduct and will entail punishment for the same.
The directive has been welcomed by activists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Chennai, who all heaped praises on Justice N Anand Venkatesh. The same judge had scripted history in June this year, when he had passed an order banning conversion therapy in the state.
“We face harassment from the police on so many levels despite educating police personnel in the state. Take the death of the transwoman Pandian in 2006 or that of transwoman Tara, who burned to death outside a police station in 2016. Both died due to police torture. We have numerous cases like these and every time, we are given compensation but no justice”, transgender activist Grace Banu told Indianexpress.com. The 38-year-old activist is the recipient of the first ever ‘Best Third Gender’ award constituted by the Tamil Nadu government for her services rendered towards the welfare of the society.
While cases of police highhandedness have seldom been reported, the numbers are lower for cases that involve members and activists from the LGBTQIA+ community.
A Jaya, the General Manager of Sahodaran said that when it comes to members of the queer community, transgenders have a lot more visibility than those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
“Transgenders can be identified easily, right from their appearance and style of dressing to their gait and voice. Moreover, transgenders are protected under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. But when it comes to those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, they face a lot of issues such as extortion, bullying, sexual harassment and violence, eve-teasing and more, whether it is at a place of education or at home. They seldom report these cases due to self-doubt and the fear that if they report these to the police, the police will further question their sexual orientation and state that they are being subjected to such behaviour because of their homosexuality”, she said.
Yesuraja, a makeup artist and the founder of Magizhvan foundation added that most people who are living in the closet are afraid to come forward and file cases with the police. “And even if they do file a complaint, the police do not take the required action. There are only a handful of police personnel who view members of the LGBTQIA+ community as fellow human beings and take cognizance of their complaints”, the artist said.
Jaya elaborated that fewer cases are reported by members of the LGBTQIA+ community due to the treatment meted out to other members of the community in the past by the police. Most members of the community who file cases against police personnel are often intimidated into dropping the case by the official involved. Sometimes, other personnel refuse to file cases against one of their own.
“In a few cases, parents file a ‘missing person’ complaint with the police when their child turns to queer-friendly NGOs and activists for help. The police, in turn, harass the activists, based solely on the complaint filed by the parents and statements provided by friend, employers and neighbours of the child, irrespective of whether these statements are true or false”, Jaya said.
“In a few cases, the police reach out to the family of the transgender directly and reach an agreement with them, thus dismissing the case”, Banu added.
Most of the time, the cases that are eventually reported are the ones that are filed with lawyers directly, an option that few have access too.
“The lawyers who help members of the queer community also face harassment from their colleagues, who immediately question their sexual orientation. In fact, a lot of advocates are living in the closet. Though they want to help us, they are afraid to embrace who they are for fear of losing their jobs, so a few advocates help us in secret”, Yesuraja said, and added that legal recourse is an option that is far more accessible in cities than in rural areas.
S Manuraj, an advocate at G&M and the lead counsel in the Seema-Sushma case, based on which the recent court order was given stated that cases filed by the LGBTQIA+ society are few, given that they are not accepted. “There are very few people who are brave enough to come forward and state their case. Most of the time, activists who are being abused by the police have little recourse, considering that they cannot file a complaint with the police.”
According to Jaya, the discrimination meted out to the queer community also stems from the way they are portrayed in the media. “I suppose it can be put down to issues in translation but I have found that certain media houses report the queer community as a whole by stating LGBTQIA community in their articles. However, when it comes to the regional media, they either sensationalise the stories or they single out the transgender community, thus taking away the essence of the news or court verdict in the first place”, she elaborated.
Jaya said that this loss in translation has to be addressed, given that transgenders today have a lot more protection than people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, queer etc.
Concurring, Yesuraja said given that most queer people these days want to be addressed with the pronouns of their choice, language barriers hinder the use of these pronouns. “We are trying our best to conduct gender sensitisation programmes in hospitals, schools and police stations so we can bring awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community. It is important because all we want at the end of the day is to be respected and accepted for who we are. And this acceptance by society can happen only when there is acceptance from within the queer community as well”, Yesuraja added.
Despite the landmark judgements being passed by the Madras HC, Yesuraja said that the negative portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community on social media is giving people the wrong information about the community and leading to further homophobia and this is something that he hopes the verdict will help overcome.
Heaping praise on the judge for his timely verdict, Jaya stated that the directive is an important one for members of the community. “Unlike people of other religions or communities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community do not have a political leader who can represent us and lend a voice to our issues. Justice N Anand has really emerged as a champion for the queer community”, she said.
Banu said the latest verdict by the Madras High Court is a welcome one for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and added that the government should also come forward to implement a stronger lesgilation to protect the members hailing from the transgender community.
“We (transgenders) face a lot of physical, verbal and mental abuse from a lot of people, including the police. Despite the implementation of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, the punishment meted out to offenders is limited to a few months and is a bailable offence, as opposed to the stringent punishment that is doled out to those who harass cisgender people. We need the government to take cognizance of this and bring out a stronger act”, she said.