'I woke up to the horrific news about my queer family member - Tara - who was burnt in front of the Pondy Bazar police station.'

Chennai police station horror Did Tara burn to death because she was a transwomanImage: Tara (left) with her friend/ Siva Sowndharya Gopi/Facebook
Blog LBGTQ+ Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 10:57

Like many of you, I went to sleep on the night of November 8 after a dramatic search for an ATM to withdraw money in 100-rupee denomination. I came back home and updated my Facebook status, shared few links and went to sleep. I anticipated to wake up with updates on who won the 2016 US presidential elections.

What I woke up to instead was the horrific news about my queer family member - Tara - who was burnt in front of the Pondy Bazar police station in Chennai in the wee hours of November 9.

It wasn’t clear if someone burnt her or if she immolated herself. There was confusion within the close-knitted queer community in Chennai. Some of us worried how the media would report the incident. Rationalising the violence and blaming the trans community is common in our media and even with our government.

As the day progressed, news channels reported the protest by the trans community in front of the Pondy Bazar police station and Kilpauk Medical College hospital where she was admitted. The news of Tara’s death came in soon.

As a member of one of the most marginalised and oppressed communities in our country, Tara might get sympathy, but we doubt if she will get justice. We are afraid that Tara’s death will become one of the many atrocities that have been unleashed on the trans community in which the perpetrators go scot-free.

I briefly spoke to a friend who was at KMC hospital on Wednesday evening. I was horrified when she said that the police threw ‘dirt’ on Tara as first-aid. She said there was ‘dirt’ in her mouth, nose and ears when they saw Tara. If this is the kind of training our police department receives to provide first aid to a burn victim, I am scared. If not, we need to know why such a treatment was meted out to Tara.

Also, Tara was not taken to the hospital immediately, according to her friends. Her friends say they found her in the compound of the police station when they went there around 5 am. They found Tara with 95% burns. Why didn't the police take her to the hospital immediately? 

The queer community and the activists are demanding to see the CCTV footage that is present in the surrounding to determine how things unfolded. The video footage from the police station, which the police showed initially as per activists, is not complete. It is not clear why they would hesitate to show the complete video footage and the CCTV recording from the surrounding, as there is ambiguity whether Tara immolated herself. 

Trans activist Grace Banu described what she saw in the video footage the police showed. After the police took Tara’s mobile phone and bike, she asked them to return her stuff back. When the police denied, she took a stone from the ground and started to cut her throat. On seeing this, instead of stopping her or saving her, the police tried to chase her away. Further when Tara said that she would die, the police asked her to go and die. From this, one can imagine the kind of treatment Tara would have received from the police officials when she was detained.

The queer community is scared. Tara is not with us today because she was a transwoman. Violence was meted out to her because she was a transwoman.

Our stratified society determines the rights a person based on their caste, gender and economic status. Tara was below the marker the society has set to treat her and others like her with human dignity. We are mocked for not being man enough, we are mocked for not being woman enough. But the truth is that, we are not even seen as humans. 

We are losing lives to the rampant transphobia and homophobia that is present in our law enforcement, educational institutions, health care centers, banks, workplaces and every damn place we walk in. We are also scared because the culture of trickling rights never trickles down to the trans community in India.


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