Transgender Community in Indian Kashmir at Odds with Local Officials Over Representation

In a two-story apartment building in the Gupkar neighborhood of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, two transgender women are having a cup of tea as they sit cross-legged watching a soap opera on television. Babloo, 50, was visiting one of her close friends, Sameer, 45, on a Friday afternoon to inquire about her health. “She does not keep well after heart surgery,” Babloo said. “I, being her best friend, make sure to visit her home time and again to know if she is in need of something.” According to the 2011 census, Kashmir was home to more than 4,000 trans people, but recent figures on that demographic are not known. India’s planned door-to-door 2021 census was put off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 12 million people live in Kashmir. Being transgender, Babloo said, is not easy in a place like Kashmir, as they are bombarded with epithets, abused, harassed and victimized. “Only a handful of trans people like me are lucky to find family support, while most of us are denied basic human rights because of our actual sexuality and gender identity,” she said. Members of Kashmir’s transgender community have, in several awareness programs, claimed that crimes against them have increased over the years. They note physical and sexual assault as well as verbal abuse. The territory has no official record of such crimes and data on such incidents is based on an ethnographic study of the transgender community of Kashmir in the book Hijras of Kashmir: A Marginalized Form of Personhood. The term “hijras” refers to a transgender person in the local Kashmiri language. Mehak Mir, president of the Transgender Union of Kashmir, told VOA that rising crime rates against the transgender community forced them to seek an independent institution for themselves in 2011. On July 13, Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, the principal secretary of a civil service agency known as the General Administration Department (GAD), announced the formation of a Transgender Welfare Board on the direction of Kashmir’s lieutenant governor, Manoj Sinha. Its makeup, however, has angered members of the transgender community since they are not represented in the board’s governing body. They accuse the local government in Indian Kashmir of “deceiving” them. “It took the government 11 years to set up the board,” Mir said, adding that her community had high hopes. “I wonder how we are supposed to get help from the welfare board when not a single transgender is part of its governing body,” she said. “The current body has no idea about our suffering, and I believe they will use our name and identity to mint money from the government for their personal benefit.” Mir told VOA that only a transgender person can understand the needs of another trans person. “None of us can be a part of this board unless we are given full representation in the governing body,” she said. “The government announced [a] 13-member governing body to run the affairs of the Transgender Welfare Board but we would like to see only trans people running the institution that has been formed to safeguard our rights.” More than half a dozen transgender people who spoke to VOA expressed their happiness regarding the establishment of the welfare board but also said the governing body should have included trans individuals. Malik Suhail, deputy secretary to the GAD, told VOA his office only “constituted the welfare board after receiving a proposal” from Kashmir’s Social Welfare Department, which deals with social services. VOA reached out to Sheetal Nanda, commissioner secretary to the Social Welfare Department, for a comment as to why transgender people were not on the welfare board’s governing body. Nanda did not respond to repeated calls and text messages. Aijaz Ahmad Bund, a prominent LGBT activist and author of Hijras of Kashmir: A Marginalized Form of Personhood, welcomed the establishment of the board, saying, “There [is] no doubt that the body has been formulated for the welfare of the community.” He said, however, that the government should hand over the affairs of the Transgender Welfare Board to trans people in order to best serve that community. “Full-fledged representation of transgender in the governing body of Transgender Welfare Board is very important,” he said. “Bureaucrats and people unfamiliar with the suffering of a transgender won’t serve any purpose.” Bund said that transgender welfare boards in other Indian states act as a governing body that facilitates the “need assessment and percolation of benefits” to the community. Bund said he expects the same kind of work from the newly established board. Meanwhile, Babloo and Sameer said they believe that the major concern is the need for a home for older transgender people. “Two of our elderly community members in 2011 and 2018 died while spending nights on footpaths during the winter when the temperature was below the freezing point,” Babloo said. “None of the people from the so-called civilized society bothered to look at them when their bodies were lying on the footpath. People realized both of them had died only after dogs started eating their flesh.” Siamak Dehghanpour and Kevin Nha contributed to this report.

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