Speaking to TNM, Akkai detailed the various kinds of discrimination she was forced to endure, which pushed her into the decision of trying to buy her own house. The fact that Akkai, an award-winning transgender activist, is facing such an uphill struggle to find a house only highlights how deep the problem actually runs for the community in Karnataka.
Akkai has repeatedly faced severe discrimination in the past while looking for rented accommodation in Bengaluru and Magadi. Speaking to TNM about these experiences, she says that while looking for a house with her friends in Sanjaynagar, “the house owner started making fun of us on seeing us. He said that other tenants in the neighbourhood will blame him if he gives me the house.”
Another landlady in the same area doubled the rent and deposit amounts after meeting her. Akkai had to borrow money from friends to be able to afford the house, and even then she had to face a lot of problems. “They did not give me water. I had people knocking at my door because I am a trans woman, and they assume that I am a sexworker and beggar. They came at 11.30-12 in the night to my door to ask me to have sex with them. I was so scared to live alone in the house," says Akkai.
Things didn’t change much after she got married and moved to Magadi. She was humiliated in public places. Her husband, Vasu, has also had to face a lot of discrimination. “Even in Magadi, people have continuously asked me to vacate their houses saying I am a black mark on their building. We decided then that if we wanted to leave this house, we should go to our own house," Akkai says.
Banks have rejected her housing loan applications since she cannot provide collateral. They also told her that being an activist, she isn’t financially stable enough to qualify for a loan. She started the online fundraiser on a friend’s suggestion as a last resort.
Housing discrimination against the transgender community
Uma, a trans activist and founder of Jeeva, an NGO that works for the rights of gender minorities, says that rental discrimination towards the community is very common.
“Landlords don’t sign rent agreements with us. If we’re working in the community and are popular in media, they find out about our identity and ask us to vacate the house. Some of them directly tell us that people will view them differently if they let us stay in house. Some of them indirectly make some excuses," Uma tells TNM.
She also talks about the experiences of her transgender friends who are forced to live on the outskirts of the city, as they cannot afford the discriminatory rents within the city. Many of them are also forced to pay higher auto fares to travel to the city to find work. This eats up a huge chunk of their income, which is sparse to begin with.
“Even when friends visit, neighbours complain because they assume it’s about sex work," says Uma.
Jahanavi Rai, a trans woman and graduate from Bengaluru, calls out the role of certain media outlets in making matters worse. She recalls that in 2016, after TV9 aired a sting operation called Operation Anandi alleging forced castration of a minor by a group of transgender people, some of her transgender friends were evicted from their houses immediately.
“When they tried to look for another house, one landlord turned them down saying they might kidnap his child too,” says Jahanavi.
Uma adds that after forcing transgender tenants out, landlords often withhold the refundable deposit for a long time, making it difficult to pay an advance on another house.
Karnataka’s Transgender Policy has only remained on paper
Although the state government introduced the Karnataka State Policy on Transgenders, 2017, in October last year, trans activists and members of the transgender community say there has barely been any action taken towards the implementation of any of the recommendations. The policy guarantees water supply, sanitation and housing to transgender persons among other basic rights.
Kiran, an activist who works on sexuality and disability in Chikkaballapur, says that being Adivasi and physically disabled, apart from being a trans man, has aggravated his problems. Along with the prejudices of landlords and neighbours, Kiran also had to face hassles while getting his name changed on various documents required to gain access to Public Distribution Schemes and other schemes. He believes that the state government needs to raise awareness among officials in order to implement welfare programmes for the transgender community effectively.
Akkai says that buying this house is the only way out of the constant discrimination she has had to face in rented accommodations. She wants to be able to live safety and with dignity. Although she has raised Rs 7 lakh with the help of her friends and family, she needs Rs 15 lakh more by April 20 to be able to retain the house and register it in her name.