Issue: Consultation meeting gives hope of a better future for a marginalised community

They face violence at the hand of goondas, and they seldom find protection from the police. When twenty-six-year-old Manohari lost her jewels and belongings to hooligans, she hesitated to give a police complaint because she has earlier had bad experiences at the local police station. Forty-two-year-old Annammal and Arumugamma have suffered bouts of unlawful and false detention. Violence and discrimination continue to plague them because they are members of the marginalized community – sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and transgenders. At a consultation programme held recently they unleashed their fears and frustrations. Centre for Advocacy and Research and the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) jointly organized the consultation meet on “Ensuring access to legal rights and social entitlements through District Legal Services Authorities” to enable members of marginalised communities to take legal recourse when they face trouble.

Addressing the community members, Jesintha Martin, Sub Judge, DLSA, said “DLSA is committed to provide legal support and justice for the marginalised and the poor. It will also provide the much needed support for the community through legal awareness and free legal aid.

She said, “As people responsible for protecting the law, we do not differentiate based on anybody’s sexuality or based on anyone’s profession.” On request from a community-based organisation, she said she will initiate a legal aid clinic on their premises for the benefit of the marginalised community members under the aegis of DLSA.

Thirunavukarasu, Deputy Commissioner, said that the perception of the police department towards the community has undergone an enormous change following the police advocacy programmes in the district. “Police are sensitive towards the community members,” he added. “At the same time, we do realize there might be some lapses and we will address them. I would like to assure you that we will help in preventing any incidents of human rights violation against the community.”

Bharathi Kannama, a transgender, said that a transgender who received free land patta in 2008 came to know that it has been transferred to somebody else. She pointed out that even when members of the community manage to receive such entitlements, they are seldom able to benefit from them.

“This is an important step in the lives of our community members, especially in a time where the judicial system is taking keen interest in protecting and ensuring justice for the common man,” said Bharathi Kannama. She hoped that the interaction would not only help advocates from the DLSA to understand the various concerns of the community but also help the community understand the role of DLSA in addressing their challenges. Over 50 members of the marginalised community including transgenders, men who have sex with men and women in sex work participated in the interaction with representatives of the DLSA and police.

(On request, names have been changed.)