India: Stop Police Brutality Against Hijras And Kothis In Bangalore!

SUMMARY

Activists for the rights of sexuality minorities in Bangalore are concerned about a recent pattern of alleged police harassment and abuse against hijra and kothi communities in the city.

Hijras are communities of transgender people and people with intersex conditions--mostly men who undergo castration--prevalent throughout South Asia. Kothis are men who have sex with men and who see themselves as feminine in sexual partnerships.

On March 31, 2002, police in Bangalore, India reportedly barred access by human rights activists and community members to a local resource center focusing on sexuality minorities issues, Sangama, for allowing hijras and kothis to meet in its office. Two weeks earlier, police officials entered the office and told employees they cannot allow hijras to meet in the Sangama office--insisting that hijras can only have meetings 'outside Bangalore city.'

Activists report additional incidents of police abuse, including arbitrary arrests and torture of those held in custody.

ACTION

Activists for the rights of sexuality minorities in Bangalore are concerned about a recent pattern of alleged police harassment and abuse against hijra and kothi communities in the city.

Hijras are communities of transgender people and people with intersex conditions--mostly men who undergo castration--prevalent throughout South Asia. Kothis are men who have sex with men and who see themselves as feminine in sexual partnerships.

On March 31, 2002, police in Bangalore, India reportedly barred access by human rights activists and community members to a local resource center focusing on sexuality minorities issues, Sangama, for allowing hijras and kothis to meet in its office. Two weeks earlier, police officials entered the office and told employees they cannot allow hijras to meet in the Sangama office--insisting that hijras can only have meetings 'outside Bangalore city.'

Activists report additional incidents of police abuse, including arbitrary arrests and torture of those held in custody.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) joins Sangama in condemning these reported patterns of police restrictions, harassment, intimidation, and torture directed against hijras and kothis in Bangalore.

Write now to the state and national authorities to demand an immediate end to police harassment and abuse against these communities, as well as against those who defend the rights of sexuality minorities in Bangalore. Ask for an immediate, sweeping, and fair investigation of previous and current abuses against these communities. Urge the institution of sensitivity training for police officers in Bangalore to discourage discrimination against any group, including sexuality minorities.

Please write to:

The Chief Minister, Karnataka
E-mail: cm@kar.nic.in
The Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, India
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

Please send copies of correspondence to Sangama

E-mail: sangama@vsnl.net

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir,

We are deeply disturbed to hear of the police violence on kothis and hijras in the city of Bangalore, including arbitrary arrests and torture of those held in custody. We are also shocked by the police harassment against the personnel of Sangama, a sexuality minorities' rights organization working with kothis and hijras in the city. These actions infringe the fundamental rights of sexuality minorities, including the rights to freedom from discrimination; freedom from torture or cruel or inhuman treatment; freedom from arbitrary arrrest; and freedom of expression; and freedom of association.

The insistence by police in Bangalore that hijras can only meet 'outside Bangalore city' clearly implies that they are to be treated as outcasts in their own city of residence. Yet police or local authorities have no right to exclude any particular group from certain sectors of the city. Such a restriction violates the basic right to freedom of movement.

Being a hijra or a kothi is not a crime. A particular mode of dress or gender expression is a public expression, and subject to protection. The right to freedom of expression is a basic human right, recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has signed.

We register our strong protest against this homophobic/transgender-phobic behavior of the police officials and demand an end to police harassment and abuse against hijras and kothis, as well as against those who defend the rights of sexuality minorities in Bangalore. We also ask for an immediate, sweeping, and fair investigation of previous and current abuses against these communities by the police.

Police should protect and serve citizens, not abuse them. The Bangalore police should be trained on human rights and human diversity to discourage discrimination against any group, including sexuality minorities. We urge you to invite local groups such as Sangama to assist with training police on these matters.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Sangama, a resource center in Bangalore, provides a space for building awareness regarding issues of sexual health and human rights and counseling, particularly for sexuality minorities from lower income and non-English-speaking backgrounds. As a part of these efforts, sexuality minorities--particularly kothis, hijras, and homosexual and bisexual men--have been meeting at the Sangama office every Sunday. Representatives from human rights, social action, and women's organizations also attend on a regular basis.

On March 17, 2002, seven policemen from the Commerical Street Police Station in Bangalore entered the Sangama office to inspect the premises. While noting that Sangama is "doing good work", they reportedly said they cannot allow hijras to meet in the Sangama office. Police also insisted that hijras can have meetings only "outside Bangalore city."

Representatives from the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka (PUCL-K, a human rights organization), Vimochana and Manasa (women's organizations), and Sangama held a meeting with the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bangalore. Immediately grasping the situation, he called the local police station and ordered officials to stop harassing Sangama.

However, on March 31, 2002, the police barred entry of various individuals, including human rights activists and hijra and kothi community members, into the Sangama office. They initially even restricted entry to employees of the organization. Arvind Narrain, a lawyer from the Alternative Law Forum, and Elavarthi Manohar, an activist at Sangama, met the Circle Inspector, M. S. Hussein, to ask for an explanation. Mr. Hussein only said that the hijras would not be allowd to meet in the Sangama office premises, and could hold their meetings anywhere "outside Bangalore city." He refused to answer any questions about the legality of this action, and said that such queries may be directed to higher officials.

Activists at Sangama connect these events to a wider pattern of police brutality and intimidation directed against the wider hijra and kothi communities in the city. Within the past week, six kothis were reportedly arrested at the Cubbon Park Police Station under false charges, and severely brutalized while in custody. Moreover, a recent fact-finding report jointly released by the human rights groups Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka (PUCL-K) and Peoples' Democratic Union, the women's group Vimochana, and a group working for the rights of garment workers and sex workers DISC documents several instances of related police abuse against the hijra and kothi communities--including extortion, physical and verbal abuse, intimidation, illegal detention, and 'outing' to families. Against the background of this scrutiny, it does not come as a surprise that the police targeted Sangama for harassment.

On April 2, 2002, PUCL-K and the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) held a press conference at the Bangalore Press Club focusing on the homophobic and transphobic attitude and actions of the Bangalore Police. Meanwhile, a coalition of activist groups met the next day to discuss these attacks and develop a common strategy against this police brutality.

IN THE LAW

The right to freedom from discrimination is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 2 and 7, and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26.

The right to freedom from torture or cruel or inhuman teratment is protected by the UDHR (Article 7) and the ICCPR (Article 14).

The right to freedom from arbitrary arrest is protected by the UDHR (Article 9) and the ICCPR (Article 8).

The right to freedom of movement is protected by the UDHR (Article 13) and the ICCPR (Article 12).

The right to freedom of expression is protected by the UDHR (Article 19) and the ICCPR (Article 19).

The right to freedom of association is protected by the UDHR (Article 20) and the ICCPR (Article 22).

The rights of human rights defenders are protected in the The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It affirms that everyone has the right "To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;" and "To communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations" (Article 5.b, c). It also affirms the universal right of individuals and groups "To know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as to how those rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative, judicial or administrative systems;" to "publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms;" and "To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters" (Article 6).

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For more information about Sangama:
http://www.sangamaonline.org

For additional information about the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka report, "Human Rights Violations Against Sexuality Minorities in India: A PUCL-K Fact-Finding Report About Bangalore":
http://www.pucl.org/reports/Karnataka/2001/sexualminorities.htm

For some background about the cultural contexts of hijras, kothis, and other sexuality minorities in India and other South Asian contexts:

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