Dressed in bright saris, chunky jewellery and heavy make-up, the transgender people hanging around Kochi’s crowded transit points at night have attracted the ire of an unlikely group of people: “Local” transgender people, who are objecting to the “outsiders”.
For the past few months, there has been tension within Kochi’s transgender community, with “local” transgender people, alleging that “migrant” transgender people were committing crimes for which they were being victimised by the police.
This tension took a turn for the worse on Friday, when a group of 11 transgender people approached the Ernakulam North police station to lodge a complaint against a group of “migrant” transgender people who had allegedly assaulted them. Instead of listening to them, the police booked them and had them remanded to judicial custody. They have still not obtained bail.
This incident has added to the animosity that Kochi’s “local” transgender community feels against “outsiders”, bringing them into the wave of mainstream bias in Kerala against “migrants”.
“Crimes committed by these migrants would be blamed on us. They commit theft, chain-snatching and indulge in other unlawful activities. But we are the ones being caught,” alleges Nasar, a male to female transgender activist with MARVEL.
“When we approached the Perumbavoor police, they were completely unaware that there are such organised groups in the area,” she said, adding that the police were not interested in investigating thoroughly.
“Some might be doing it (committing crimes), we don’t know. We struggle here to make both ends meet,” says Padma, a male to female transgender from Coimbatore.
Transgender activists claim that most of the transgender sex workers who scout for clients in transit points such as Kochi North Railway Station, Chittoor road, KSRTC bus stand area and certain roads in Kochi, are natives of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Padma explains the reason for this. “In Coimbatore and other major other cities, there is a lot of competition among transgender people. But in Kerala, transgender sex workers are fewer. We have to eat, and nobody gives us other jobs. This is the only option left,” Padma says.
Thrissur-based transgender activist Sheetal Shyam agrees that helplessness drives many transgender people to sex work.
“Who will give us jobs? That’s why some of us turn to begging and sex work. Nobody gives us a house on rent. Some of us live in lodges paying hefty rents, but how do we bear that?” she asks.
It was rare, but not unheard of, for transgender people to employed in jobs that do not involve sex work, she says.
Regardless of whether the “local” transgender community is being victimized for crimes allegedly committed by “migrant” transgender people, all of them do have a common problem: harassment by the police.
On Saturday, Poorna and Aysha, who had undergone sex change operations in May, were assaulted by police personnel on night duty in the Valajambalam area of the city.
“After Friday’s incident none of us went out. But Poorna and Aysha went out for dinner on Saturday. They were also to pick up Aysha’s mother who was coming from Bengaluru. (Male) police struck blows on their genitals which were not yet healed from the surgery. If we cannot live here, it’s better to die,” says Sheethal.
Padma too says that the police harass them. “If they find us while patrolling, we are beaten badly. They don’t even consider us as humans,” she said.
Nasar also agrees, but perceives this in terms of “us” and “them”.
“Neither the police nor the society where we were brought up in wish to understand or listen to us. They think that we should be wiped out from our own state,” she says.
Ironically, Kerala may be the only state to have a policy for transgender people.