DAY NINE: Migration and Violence:  The Question of trans* masculine persons in India 

In India, trans* masculine people face the risk of violence and displacement through forced migration and homelessness. Family resistance can take the form of conversion therapies and healers while trying to silence to avoid stigma. Sutanuka Bhattacharya and Bindu KC explores this issue in this insightful piece.

Sutanuka Bhattacharya / Suto and Bindu K. C.

Featured image: ‘Uprooted’ by Archee Roy (she/her), a queer visual artist based in Kolkata. Ink and water colour on paper, 16th October 2022 

Seeing Violence, Seeing Gender 

Thinking about gender is thinking about “normalcy”.  One does not “see” gender if one is comfortable in one’s gender identity. Thus, people who see themselves within the cis-hetero-sexist nexus need not think about gender as a system of power.  It is precisely this invisibility of normality that is any powerful system’s route to domination.   

Under these circumstances, an event of violence, in a flash, gives us a glimpse into what was always already at play. Like a scanner revealing the inner structure of the body, it allows us access to the violently structured world of power. Thus, it is not surprising then that the everyday of queer and trans* lives marred by violence opens up the process of gendering.   

On 22nd July and 1st September 2022, India saw a torrent of social media posts by the queer and trans* community about violence against transgender persons. In both the instances, Aditya and Shyam, two adult trans men from Uttar Pradesh were forced to leave their violent natal homes. They took refuge in shelter homes for transgender persons, run by Non-Governmental Organizations based in Delhi and Gurugram respectively. While Aditya found shelter in Garima Greh, a government-aided shelter home run by the Mitr Trust, Shyam sought shelter in Aasra run by The Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation.  

21st July, post mid-night, Aditya was abducted from Garima Greh by the UP Police based on the “missing diary” lodged by his parents. At the same time, on 1st September afternoon, Shyam’s father, who was himself working with the UP Police, barged into Aasra searching for him. However, unable to find Shyam, his father forcefully brought the co-chairperson and the board member at TWEET, who also identify as trans men, to a Gurugram police station. At the police station they were physically assaulted, detained without documents and were threatened while the local police remained silent.    

Gender-based violence perpetrated by the institutions of family, education, medical sciencehealth care, judiciary, legislation, law and so on take diverse forms.

In this piece, we concentrate on the often methodically orchestrated violence leading to forced migration and resulting homelessness of trans* masculine persons. Such violence might be routine for various groups marginalized by gender and sexuality. However, even amongst less documented queer groups, the lived experiences of trans* masculine persons is striking. Their relative epistemic and ontological invisibility makes the world miss them as a category.   

Forced Migration and Homelessness 

Forced migration and homelessness among trans* masculine persons are often reported to be systematically orchestrated by natal families through physical violence or severe lack of support. For example, in both the cases we discuss, the trans men were forced to leave their natal homes because their family members refused to accept their self-identified gender and unleashed severe violence on them. Aditya was reported to be under house arrest for more than two years because his parents were ashamed of him; while Shyam, in his application for his stay at Aasra mentioned that his family members were planning to kill him or marry him to a cis–man against his consent.  

In most cases, family resistance starts when the trans* masculine persons either assert their non-normative gender identities and/or their non-normative sexual desires. Many parents at the initial stage try to hush this up fearing social stigma and the shame stemming from deep rooted trans negativity and homo–negativity. Further, parents and other family members might also take recourse to conversion therapies, performed by modern medical professionals or traditional healers with a hope to “cure and control their unruly daughters”.  

Gender–based violence unleashed on trans* masculine persons by their families entail psychological, physical and sexual violence, for example, denying their gender-sexual identities and desires, blackmailing in the name of family honour, house arrest, separating them from their romantic partners, forcing them to marry cis–men, restricting their mobility and access to resources such as food, education, communication, beating and “corrective” rape . There are also reported instances where trans masculine persons, unable to withstand societal and familial pressure, had even been forced to end their lives

Conclusion: Network of care, community spaces and their challenges 
There are glimmers of hope in alternative narratives amidst the deluge of violence against trans* masculine persons.  Occasionally, some find acceptance from their natal families. More often, they find safe spaces and care networks among friendships, community members and also within intimate relationships.  

Strangely, we find some stories of acceptance to be embedded within patriarchal ideas of gender.  In our society, intrinsically steeped with son preference, trans masculine persons—post–medical and legal transitions—taking up traditional masculine gender roles sometimes receive acceptance from natal families. However, most of the time, this acceptance comes at the cost of erasure of their gender-sexual transgressive past and hiding their gender-sexual journey. Moreover, in such cases, migration often becomes not just the trans person’s burden but that of the entire family. There are stories of entire families relocating to different localities, sometimes in the same city.   

The emerging shelter homes for queer and trans* persons across the country should be seen as possibilities of safe spaces institutionally. But the stories for existing shelter homes for cis women and children do not give much hope.  Till date, friendships and informal networks within the community remain safe spaces for trans migrations.  However, such friendships and care networks are still precarious.   

To conclude, one can see migration in trans* masculine persons’ lives, forced or otherwise, as stemming from unbearable violence within families and others whom young trans people might interact closely with. Under these circumstances, migration is both a cry for help and at the same time, the indomitable human urge to survive.  

Authors’ Bio 

Sutanuka Bhattacharya/ Suto (they/ them) is an activist-researcher based in India. They are pursuing a Doctor in Philosophy in Women’s and Gender Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. Their doctoral thesis, titled ‘Writing Trans Subjectivities: Re-thinking gender-sexuality through identities and relationalities’, revolves around understanding contemporary trans masculine subjectivities in the context of India. At present, they are located in Kolkata and have also been associated with feminist, queer and trans* activist spaces in the city since 2005. Suto identifies as a non-binary queer person. 

Dr. Bindu K. C. (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies Programme, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. 

Day Eight |EU-UN Spotlight Initiative; A New Global Solution to a Global Challenge

Credit: UN Women Guatemala. Pictured: Ana Maria Pivaral Hernandez is 60 years old and lives in Zone 7 of Guatemala City. In 2017, the Guatemala Safe City and Safe Public Spaces programme conducted a survey of women in seven zones of Guatemala City as part of a baseline study. Every woman surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment in public at some time during her life. At least 44 percent said it happens daily.

Written by Adekoyejo Adeboye

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. It cuts across all generations, nationalities, communities and spheres of our societies, irrespective of age, ethnicity, disability or status.

The facts

One out of three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, remains the most prevalent form of violence against women and girls, reportedly causing more deaths than in civil wars.

More than 700 million women alive today were married as children (before the age of 18), with more than one third married before their 15th birthday.

An estimated 200 million women and girls have experienced the human rights violation known as female genital mutilation.

Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has brought attention to the fact that millions of women and girls still face the threat of sexual harassment and violence in public spaces, the workplace, in school and at home.

 A barrier to realizing the world we want

If the current rates and trends for gender inequality and violence persist, it will be impossible for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – the global commitment to end all forms of poverty, inequality and tackle climate change by the year 2030.

To achieve the world we want, all women and girls must fully enjoy their human rights and live free from violence and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In fact, eliminating all forms of harmful practices and violence and against women and girls are specific targets under the Sustainable Development Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

 The good news

There is now an unprecedented and global effort to remove this primary obstacle to achieving a sustainable world free from poverty, hunger and inequality.

I work for the Spotlight Initiative – a new global multi-year partnership between the European Union and United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Launched last year with a five-year funding commitment of €500 million from the European Union, the Initiative represents the single largest global investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a precondition and driver for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the next few years, we will invest in innovative programmes and projects that respond to all forms of violence against women and girls, with a particular focus on ending domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.

A comprehensive response

While many different efforts to confront these issues exist, the Spotlight Initiative’s comprehensive programme design, theory of change and its high-level political and financial commitments promise to deliver meaningful results on a large scale.

Programmes funded by the Initiative will simultaneously address legislative and policy gaps, strengthen institutions, promote gender-equitable attitudes, provide quality services for survivors and reparations for victims of violence and their families. Interventions will also strengthen systems for collecting data on violence and empower women’s movements.

A pivotal year ahead

By the first quarter of 2019, we will have invested €325 million – 65% of our overall funding envelope – to fund programmes to eliminate violence against women and girls reaching 170 million people in 24 countries.

In Latin America, we will fund initiatives to end femicide – when a woman or girl is killed based on gender – in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. 12 women are killed because of their gender every day in the region.

In Africa, we will begin implementing interventions to end sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and promote access to sexual and reproductive health in Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

In Asia, we are already funding a regional programme to strengthen rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to labour migration. The “Safe and Fair” programme will address vulnerabilities to violence and trafficking and the support the delivery of essential services for women migrant workers in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

New programmes to end domestic violence in the Caribbean and the Pacific are currently under development.

Demonstrating change

One of our goals at Spotlight is to demonstrate to the world that significant, concerted and comprehensive investments in gender equality can make a transformative difference in the lives of women and girls.

We want to show that the United Nations and its agencies, national governments, civil society, donors, academia and the private sector can work closely together and join resources to solve an issue affecting half of the world’s population.

While €500 million is the largest investment ever made to end violence against women and girls, much more resources and commitments will be needed to improve the lives of girls and women everywhere.

We want to work hand-in-hand with everyone from world leaders to local communities to end violence against women and girls. Learn more about us and our work at spotlightinitiative.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalSpotlight.

Day Seven | Epidemic of Violence against Transgender Women in Indonesia: When the Government Fails to Protect its Vulnerable Citizens

photo credit: 2018 Women’s March Jakarta

Written by Firmansyah Sarbini and Naila Rizqi Zakiah

The rise of anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia has led to the exclusion of LGBT groups from society, which has caused their persecution. More and more cases are emerging of banning academic discussions, discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions, through to efforts of criminalisation through courts and legislation.

In 2016, the Support Group & Resource Center on Sexuality Studies Universitas Indonesia became the centre of a media storm in Indonesia. The organisation was launching an LGBT Peer Support Network, a project-based collaboration with the LGBT online forum melela.org. Since then, an unexpected wave of bigotry hit Indonesia.  The Love Family Alliance (ALIA), a conservative group in Indonesia, has requested the Constitutional Court to change the definitions of adultery and child molestation in the criminal code which would criminalise homosexual sex.  By a margin of five to four judges, the Constitutional Court ruled against the effort to revise the country’s criminal code on the grounds that such a move was the responsibility of parliament. But this statement only inspired the conservative group to lobby lawmakers for the changes.

LGBT people are a marginalised segment of Indonesian society.  In a survey of 1,520 respondents, conducted by the Wahid Foundation and Lembaga Survey Indonesia during March-April 2016 the LGBT group was the most disliked (26.1%), compared to other groups like Communists (16.7%) and Jewish people (10.6%). This was reinforced by the findings of Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) during November 2016, which showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (16.6%) were more hated than Communists and Jews, and second only to ISIS (25.5%). LGBT rights in Indonesia have also been politicised in every election campaign since Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, when Musdah Mulia, an Indonesian Islamic theologist and research professor at the Ministry of Religious Affairs who irked many conservative Muslims with her LGBT-friendly perspective, was in the team of experts of now president Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi). Many politicians endorse the rising hatred against LGBT people and often give biased statements and opinions about the LGBT community to gain majority votes, as well as promote anti-LGBT laws and bylaws. In early November 2018, a so-called ‘war against LGBT communities’ was started by Hidayat Nurwahid from Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who demanded President Jokowi issue an anti-LGBT law. The 2019 presidential election will be yet another battleground for politicians against the LGBT community; it is highly likely that most affected group in this war will be already vulnerable transwomen.

 In Silence: Violence against Transwomen in Indonesia

Throughout 2017, based on the data collected by LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), there were 973 individuals who were victims of stigma, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions outside the heteronormative binary. Based on their observations, transwomen ranked first as victims of violence at a rate of 715 out of 973 people. The vulnerability of transgender groups is caused by the visibility of their gender expression, making them more identifiable to society and the public at large. For transgender people who are evicted from their homes, these risks are amplified due to not only their loss of housing, but also their loss of support groups, be it family or friends.

From LBH Masyarakat’s observations, throughout 2017 there were at least three incidents of murder of transwomen. A transwoman in Bone, South Sulawesi, was murdered by two men who pretended to befriend her. When she was asleep, they murdered and robbed her. This modus operandi of larceny also happened in Semarang, Central Java, where after dating a transwoman, the perpetrator murdered her and took off with her belongings. The third incident happened in South Lampung, Sumatra. This time there was no robbery, but there was the same pattern where the perpetrator had sexual relations with the transwoman and then killed the victim. These killings, targeting transwomen, follow a similar pattern to murders targeting women, also known as femicide. They are done merely on the basis that the victim is a woman or a transwoman, by perpetrators who view women as weak and gullible, and transwomen particularly so.

Additionally, in 2018 transwomen have been identified as the most frequent victims of police violence in Indonesia. At the start of 2018, police in the province of Aceh detained 12 transwomen, shaving or cutting their long hair with the justification that they were teaching them how to act like “real men”. In November 2018, three transwomen were subjected to a raid by Satpol PP (a regional police force concerned with morals and order) in Lampung province. In this raid, the three transwomen were brought to the Satpol PP office and hosed down with water at the firefighter building. Adding insult to injury, a Satpol PP officer also proudly recorded and shared the torture and humiliation on social media.

Despite the fact that transwomen have become the most vulnerable group in Indonesia, the government tends to deny the violence against transwomen happens. It is also difficult to document the violence against transwomen because victims are often intimidated and oppressed, both by law enforcement agencies and society at large when they try to report their cases. Violence continues, justice is delayed.

The violence experienced by transwomen and LGBT groups in general is caused by rising intolerance and the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in society. Widespread discrimination seems to be here to stay in the long-run. Most worryingly, many academics, politicians, and even governmental authorities have stated that they support legal discrimination of LGBT people in Indonesia. LGBT people’s basic civil rights are, at the end of the day, just unfulfilled promises. Their requests are simple: equal access and an opportunity to live. However, the government seems adamant to deny that wish.

Firmansyah Sarbini (SGRC Indonesia) and Naila Rizkqi Zakiah (LBH Masyarakat) are the Australian Human Rights Institute’s first Visiting Human Rights Defenders.