Transwoman humiliated, sent to Kerala men's prison: Shifted out after protests

The police claimed that Hema who did not have long hair could not have been a trans woman, and lodged her in the men's jail.
Transwoman humiliated, sent to Kerala men's prison: Shifted out after protests
Transwoman humiliated, sent to Kerala men's prison: Shifted out after protests
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That night, Hema did not know that she would end up in a men’s prison cell of the Ernakulam sub jail, be stripped of her churidhar and made to wear men’s clothes. The police who arrested her from Ernakulam South had not believed she is a trans woman. Her friends who came to see her were ridiculed, shooed away. But they kept fighting from outside, telling the police that she needed to be shifted out of the men's jail, till Hema was finally moved to the special transgender cell in Viyyur Central Jail, Thrissur.

A man had asked Hema out, a sex worker, on the pretext of work. On the road that goes from KSRTC bus stand to South Railway Station, he snatched her handbag and began running. Hema chased him till they both ran into the police. She told the police about her bag. The man named Biju Kumbalam told the police that she had taken his phone. They were both taken to the Ernakulam Central police station.

That night - October 16 - was a regular one till Biju came to call Hema for work, says Sajana, a trans woman who visited Hema at the sub-jail. “Biju had trapped a few from the community in another fake case back in June,” she says. He is trapping Hema too, Sajana believes.

“We reached the police station the next morning, but they wouldn’t let us see her. All this while, Biju’s family was allowed to see him. By noon, we made a lot of noise and they let us meet her. Police officer Sajan Joseph had even told us she could go free, she just shouldn’t repeat this. But then the constables said they should wait for the Circle Inspector. Instead of letting her go, the CI registered a case against her. She was arrested on the night of 16th and still not presented in a court on 17th evening. But Biju was allowed to go, he walked away mocking us. We didn’t hear from Hema for days after that,” says Sajana, who is an adoptive mother of a few trans people.

For the next five days, Sajana and friends could not find where Hema was. They finally found out that Hema had been taken to the Ernakulam sub-jail. Sajana and Faisu, another transgender person, visited her, and made more pleas for justice. “She told us how she was often beaten up by the jail warden, a man called Prince,” Sajana says.

Vihaan Peethambar, board member of Queerala, had written an angry Facebook post: “It seems this is all a part of the master plan laid out by the highly transphobic CI Ananthalal whose life's mission is to rid Ernakulam district of transgender people. When will he be dismissed? If transwomen were to launch a #metoo movement, the Kerala Police would top the list. Kerala Government, when will you follow through with your promises?!”

Though the police paid no heed to the outrage against a clear human rights violation- the arrest and the subsequent lodging in a men's jail- the government’s Social Justice Department intervened in the issue and got Hema moved to Viyyur Jail. 

Syama S Prabha, project officer at the Transgender Cell of Social Justice Department, had to call the police several times to ensure the transfer. “It is a human right violation. She should have been taken to the special transgender cell in Viyyur Central Jail, Thrissur,” Sruthy, project assistant at the transgender cell says.

“But this was a man,” says the policeman who answers the phone at Ernakulam sub-jail. When he is told no, sir, it is a transgender person, he says, “Yes, that’s why the person was moved to Viyyur, because there are no facilities here at the sub jail. We had to keep the person here for a few days, waiting for police escort to take her to the sub jail. These things take time.”

Sajana and Faisu put up a Facebook video on Thursday, after the visit. “They accused her not only of stealing, but also of impersonation. They think that because Hema did not have real long hair, she is not a trans woman. How can you measure a trans person like that?” asks Faisu in the video.

The inhumanity of it all is so strikingly painful that you fail to understand the mentality of those who think they could do this to a fellow being. Sajana was not Hema’s adoptive mother, but she still went. “Because she is from the community and because she is human,” she says simply. A simplicity that half the world just cannot seem to get.

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