Hijras, a Police Crusade and an Action

On October 20, 2008, police picked up five hijras near a traffic signal near the Girinagar police station in Bangalore. In the station, they were verbally and physically harassed with one person sustaining physical injury. It was to be the beginning of a long day and night of police attacks against hijras and activists who arrived to advocate on their behalf. Activists in Bangalore report that these attacks against hijras are part of a city-wide drive being conducted by police to 'clean up' the city. Such drives, carried out in New York, San Francisco, and Rio, among many other cities, should strike a resonant chord for those who have watched city officials scapegoat queers, trans genders, sex workers, and homeless people in the name of development, modernization, and economic growth. With respect to Bangalore, the city is aiming to attract millions of investment and tourist dollars. Hijras, especially when they are visible on city streets and in public parks, are seen as antithetical to the 'new city.' Police claim that hijras need to be eliminated from the city because they beg and steal. Activists claim that police must function within the rule of law, and that the harassment of sexual minorities throughout the city must cease.

Arrest and Torture of Sangama Crisis Team Members

On receiving a phone call from the five hijras in the police detention, five activists from the local sexual minorities Crisis Team (Madesh, Dilfaraz, Savitha, Sahana and Kokila) of Sangama (a sexual minority human rights and health organization in Bangalore) visited Girinagar police station and enquired about the detention of the people who had been arrested. On request from the police, the crisis team members went to the Banashankari police station and met the Assistant Chief of Police (ACP) and the Police Inspector (PI) Shivashankara Murthi to resolve the problem. The ACP and PI were abusive to these activists, asking "Are you a man or woman?" "Take off all your clothes, let me check what you have there?" "Check if he is wearing an underwear?" "Strip them!" "How dare you come to my area to support hijras!" "Do you make blue films?" "Are you beggars?" The ACP struck Dilfaraz and Madesh, with the PI threatening to 'break [their] head,' and ordered the arrest of these activists. They were booked under a false drug charge.

On receiving a phone call from the crisis team members, more activists from Sangama went to the Banashankari Police Station at around 3 p.m. At this point the Banashankari police brutally attacked Madesh and Dilfaraz with fists and lathis, kicked them, dragged them into a police van, and moved them to the Girinagar police station by force. When police threatened to strike the three female activists who were present with the crisis intervention team, other activists warned the police of the serious consequences of policemen touching women. This was the only instance in which the police backed off during the entire incident. These five crisis team members were released on bail on October 22, 2008, with charges still pending.

On learning of these additional arrests, 150 or so human rights activists and lawyers from various organizations that work on issues related to women, dalits, workers, communalism, the environment, health, sexual minorities, and sex workers gathered outside the Banashankari police station. Activists tried to negotiate with the ACP and PI unsuccessfully to have Madesh and Dilfaraz released. At around 7 p.m. activists started a peaceful protest in front of the police station and start shouting slogans against police atrocities. At 7:30 p.m., on the ACP's request, a delegation of six activists started a dialogue with the police officials inside the station. The ACP and PI said, "It was wrong to hit people in our custody. We know that. We are asked by the senior officials to beat them up. Leave your people and go home. We will not release them even if you go to the Chief Minister. We have orders from the senior officials to round up all hijras on the streets of Bengaluru and book them under extortion cases. We are only following the instructions of our seniors. You go out and do a protest in front of Police Commissioner's Office." When questioned about the unlawful actions of the police, the ACP shouted, "arrest these people and beat them up." The ACP, PI and a few other policemen brutally hit the delegates on their necks, legs and backs using lathis, and pushed them into the lockup. They were eventually released, without charges being filed against them. This was not the case for the subsequent wave of 31activists and advocates who had also arrived to try to release the people still in custody.

At around 7:45 p.m., the police declared that they were arresting the activists and asked them to get into the police vehicles. After illegally detaining six additional activists, the police started beating up those holding cameras and attempted to chase them away. When activists demanded the release of the six delegates in lockup, police officers brutally and mercilessly attacked those gathered, women, men and transgenders. The police pushed 31 activists (including 1 hijra, 3 female-to-male transsexuals, 9 women and 18 men) into a small van. They were made to suffer for seven hours inside a small van without water or food. They were under extreme stress, almost dehydrated and suffocated by this ordeal, when they were finally provided a can of water at midnight. All of them were booked under Section 143 (unlawful assembly), 145 (joining an unlawful assembly ordered to dispersed) and 353 (obstructing government officials in performing their duty) and were taken to the residence of the magistrate.

A senior advocate, B.T. Venkatesh, and a number of human rights lawyers were waiting near the residence when the activists were brought. Police sought to prevent the magistrate from recording the assault and the violence committed against the activists. At 1:30 a.m., after all the protests the police were forced to produce the accused before the magistrate. After recording the details of the assaults suffered by the accused, the magistrate directed the police to take everyone who had been arrested and detained by the police to Bowring Hospital for medical examinations as most had sustained major injuries. These 31 activists were released on bail on the evening of October 22nd.

The Campaign for Sexual Minorities Rights Is Launched

The Girinagar and Banashankari police actions showed complete disregard for the laws of the land. Brutal police attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protestors are clear violations of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. These actions threaten democracy itself. Sangama, the organization in Bangalore that coordinated the attempts to have the initial five arrestees released, is now coordinating a campaign to get all the charges against them and their advocates dropped, to have the police involved in these incidents dismissed, and to eliminate anti-hijra police policies. The campaign has already met with significant success due to positive media coverage on this issue. Hijras throughout the city have responded independently as well i.e. taking a day recently to distribute flowers to police stations throughout the city.

Protests on behalf of the hijras began on November 1 and continued across India through November 7, 2008, which has been designated a national day of action. For more information, please see http://sangama.org/.


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