Unelected village heads in Induvala put pressure on house owners to evict trans women. And since then, the women have been struggling to find a stable roof over their heads.

In Mandya trans women are being driven out of villages controlled by unelected headmen
news LGBTQI+ Friday, June 08, 2018 - 16:41

“Nobody we spoke to gave us a reason for it. One day, out of the blue, we were asked to leave the village,” says Ramya*, who recalls the harrowing phone call from her house owner in vivid detail but finds it hard to remember when exactly it happened.

Crouched low in a corner of Vishweshwaraya Park in Mandya, her fingers sift through a dossier of documents as she tries to search for the exact dates when her life plunged into disarray.

“It was in early 2016, around March. The few months around that is a blur,” she says with an expressionless face.  

Ramya (30), a transgender woman and activist, and over 70 members of the transgender community were asked to leave Induvala, a tiny, unassuming village in Mandya district, in March 2016.

It has been more than two years since the incident occured but it still dictates much of Ramya’s daily life. “Many transgender persons who left Induvala, including me, are yet to find stable housing even now,” she says.  

The decision to ask all transgender persons to leave the village was taken by the ‘gowdas’ or heads of the village; they claim, they received complaints from residents about misdemeanours of some members of the community.

“We started receiving complaints from the people that transgender persons are roaming the village roads in the night and that they are stealing from people. So we decided to tell them, respectfully, to leave the village,” says Chandrashekar Gowda, one of the nine heads of Induvala.

Chandrashekhar Gowda, one of the nine village heads of induvala in Mandya

He says that the alleged misdemeanours were committed by a few members of the transgender community, but admits that the decision affected every transgender person living in the village. When pressed for a reason for the decision, he says, "Our boys were being spoilt by them (transgender persons).”

‘We told them to vacate in 3 months’

The village heads communicated their decision to house owners in Induvala, who in turn asked members of the transgender community to leave the village.

“We never even talked to the them!” reveals Chandrashekhar, with a hint of pride in his voice. “We told house owners that it is a question of protecting our people, and the house owners supported us. All transgender persons were asked to vacate the village within three months and nobody was cheated,” he adds.

A house owner in Induvala, who did not wish to be named, corroborated the sequence of events. “I would say most transgender women who lived in the village were good people. They minded their own business, but the people in our village saw that the community was united. When you spoke to four transgender women, there was a feeling that 40 would back them up. So, the village heads asked us to vacate all transgender persons,” the house owner, who had leased his house to two transgender women, reveals.

Gram Panchayat Office in Induvala, Mandya

District authorities scoff at reports

Mandya district authorities claim to be unaware of the drive to evict transgender persons from villages, and also dismiss the idea of village heads taking decisions related to governance.

“Only the law is in place in this district,” says G Radhika, Superintendent of Police (SP) for Mandya district, when asked about Ramya’s claims and appealed for time to investigate.

The SP’s words are echoed by BP Vijay, Additional District Commissioner of Mandya district, who scoffs at the idea of village headmen. “In this democratic setup, the concept of a village headman has lost its relevance. It is almost too good to be true,” he says.

BP Vijay, Additional District Commissioner, Mandya

Village controlled by unelected headmen

But in Induvala, just 4 km from Mandya, the local village heads are more powerful than district authorities like to believe. Although officially unrecognised in many parts of Mandya, the nine gowdas of Induvala are indeed an influential local justice system. They rule over the village without the help of the elected government machinery.

The ruling power of the village heads is recognised by residents and Gram Panchayat members alike. “The village heads take decisions in the village, whether it is related to festivals or to settle disputes between residents. They have the control and they wanted to take care of the village, so they asked the transgender women to leave,” says Kare Gowda, a Gram Panchayat member from Induvala.

The transgender community had no option but to scatter to nearby villages. Ramya’s life was uprooted as she was forced to move out of her house in Induvala to Raagimuddanahalli, around 8 km away. “A few people went to Mandya, a few others went to Thoobinakere and then a few like me settled in Raagimuddanahalli,” she says.

Ramya (30) was forced to vacate from two villages in the last two years

Even though most people who lived in Induvala had resettled in nearby villages, the relationship between transgender persons and other residents of the villages continued to remain strained after the news of their departure from Induvala spread through the district.

‘Nobody believed us’

The simmering tensions flared up once again in July 2017, when a resident of Thoobinakere, around 4 km away from Induvala, accused a transgender woman of accosting him on the road, taking money from him and forcing him into sex. In conversation with residents of Thoobinakere, two versions of the incident emerged: one, where the trans woman allegedly assaulted the resident, and another, where the resident forced himself on the trans woman.

The incident led to clashes between some of the original residents of the village, and members of the transgender community.

“They had taken money from our boy. So we went to them and a fight started,” says Sridhara, a resident of Thoobinakere, recalling the sequence of events. “I don’t deny that there were good people among them too. But you had to question them. They were in Induvala and were driven away from there, weren’t they?” he asks.

“The trans women block the roads and do business. They also touch people inappropriately and demand money,” adds Sridhara. D Nagaraju, President of Thoobinakere Gram Panchayat, and several other Gram Panchayat members further allege that the trans women also resorted to stealing and gambling.

(Pictured Extreme Left) D Nagaraju, President of Thoobinakere Gram Panchayat 

However, Ramya, who rushed to Thoobinakere following the incident, says that the transgender person in question was innocent. “Nobody believed us when we claimed innocence. Not the media nor the police,” she says.

Police officials at Thoobinakere police station who investigated the incident did not file a case, and instead asked the people involved to reach a compromise.

Thoobinakere Gram Panchayat, Mandya

Displaced once again

This incident in Thoobinakere further led to the local residents villainising the transgender community. Every rumour about transgender persons, real or fake, provoked paranoia.

“When the incident happened, any trouble caused by transgender persons in the village was analysed and over-analysed. Suddenly, we turned into outsiders all over again,” says Ramya.

What happened in Induvala, repeated itself in Thoobinakere where members of the transgender community were asked to leave the village as part of the compromise struck between the two parties involved in the fight.

But word travels fast, and the effects of the fallout in Thoobinakere spilled into Raagimuddanahalli, where Ramya was living.

Raagimuddanahalli, Mandya

“When trouble kicked off in Thoobinakere, the transgender persons in our village decided to leave in order to avoid any problems,” says Ramesh, a house owner of a transgender tenant in Raagimuddanahalli. “We returned the advance they had paid and sent them on their way,” he says.

Picking up her bags once more, Ramya left Raagimuddanahalli in January this year, and now resides closer to a city. She wishes not to reveal her location for fear of further persecution.

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Ramesh, a house owner at Raagimuddanahalli, Mandya 

Voter IDs don’t change attitudes

According to activists, over 350 transgender persons live in Mandya district. Members of the transgender community were given hope this year when district authorities concentrated efforts to make voter IDs for them, ahead of the state Assembly elections.

The Election Department of the DC Office in Mandya says that 130 transgender persons registered to vote and 27 of them voted in the elections held on May 15.

But the community members reveal that in spite of having a voter ID card, their identities are questioned by house owners, and that they face an uphill battle with the owners to let them stay.

Ramya had to strike a deal with her landlady, “I had to appeal to the owner to let me stay for three months. I asked her to judge my behaviour in this period and then take a decision. She now says I can stay as long as I like.”

Raagimuddanahalli, Mandya

Insecurity, and constant fear of violence

The experiences of Induvala and Thoobinakere continue to haunt members of the community, even as they live in fear of being woken up in the middle of the night only to face violence.

Gauri*, a transgender woman who used to live in Kallalli, near Mandya, reveals how a man forcibly entered her home one night. “A man came to our house at 2 am when I was alone. He was drunk and picked a fight with me,” she says. “I was screaming and running on the road and yet no one responded,” she says, describing the harrowing incident that occurred in January this year.

The incident, like many other atrocities against transgender persons in Mandya, was never reported to the police. “No complaints by transgender persons are taken up by the police. On most occasions, they are never reported,” Gauri says.

This was confirmed by the SP, who says that the police is yet to register a case in the district in which a transgender person is the complainant.

Even though the state government introduced the Karnataka State Transgender Policy in October 2017, which guarantees water supply, sanitation, housing and other basic rights, transgender activists and members of the transgender community say that almost no action has been taken to implement the recommendations made in the policy.

Even Akkai Padmashali, the face of transgender welfare in Karnataka, has had to struggle to find a house – she recently created campaigns on crowdfunding platforms Ketto and BitGiving, to raise money to buy a house.

Transgender persons across the state revealed that they have to assert their dignity and humanity in order to be recognised by other residents. The allegation of wrongdoing against one becomes the sin of all in the eyes of the community.  

“If a man makes a mistake does that mean all men make mistakes? Why are the rules different for transgender persons?” asks Gauri.

Gauri (27) appeals for police officials to be sensitive to transgender persons

She also appeals for police protection to be given to transgender persons and for police officials to be sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. “Transgender persons should be given police protection and we should be able to approach police officials easily,” she says, adding that transgender persons do not want to be isolated. “We should be given secure houses and not be driven away from villages. If this continues, we will be further isolated from the residents in Mandya,” she says.

With a secure roof over their head, she says that community members can concentrate on other ways they can improve their lives – by searching for different kinds of jobs, applying for ration cards and so on.

“I want to open my own business, if I am able to secure the resources for it,” she says with the first inkling of a smile on her face. But she is quick to add, “Before I dream of that, we should first get justice.”

*Names changed on request

All photographs by Dhruv Khanna and Soham Kundu

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