Staff Reporter

Bangalore: “We face many problems. We are denied jobs; we cannot find owners willing to give their houses on rent; we cannot apply for a ration card and cannot have a marriage that is recognised by the State government. To top it all, we have to face harassment from the police every day,” said Pooja, a “kothi” from Hebbal.

Pooja was taking part in the second Karnataka State Sexuality Minorities Annual Convention that was jointly organised by Sangama, Suraksha and Samara here on Sunday. The theme for this year’s convention was “Mobilisation, collectivisation and empowerment”.

The convention culminated with a rally taken out from Makkalakoota to Bannappa Park, in which many hijras, “kothis”, homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender persons participated.

Speaking to The Hindu, Pooja alleged that the main problem was harassment by police officials. “They harass us because we are into sex work and they file cases against us unnecessarily. Some of us have taken up sex work by choice and that should be respected by society. Our plight will change only when society views sex work as just another profession,” she said.

It is a view that is endorsed by many sex workers belonging to sexuality minorities. “Society should learn to accept us as we are. Most of our families have disowned us. We go through trauma because of this,” she said.

Akkai, who has been working for Sangama for the past five years, said that society should recognise hijras as women and transgenders (female to man) as men.

“We live with discrimination. We also do not want society to discriminate against HIV/AIDS patients,” Akkai said.

A cultural programme had also been organised on the occasion. “The cultural festival is a space for the sexuality minority community to express its talents. This will also serve as a means to show society its struggle and its desire to be empowered,” Akkai said.

Reginald Watts, executive director, Sangama, said that the only response to any different expression of gender and sexuality was rejection, violence, punishment from families, public harassment, denial of rights and persecution at the hands of State agencies, public and private health systems and educational institutions.