Other States

CAA triggers fears among sex workers, transgenders

Picture for representation: A rainbow flag from a rally in Kolkata.

Picture for representation: A rainbow flag from a rally in Kolkata.   | Photo Credit: AFP

They fear that they will be thrown out of country as most of them don’t even know who their parents are

Of late, Megha, 34, has been distracted. “I am even forgetting to take medicines; it is like this fear of proving citizenship does not let me focus on anything, including my work,” said Ms. Megha, who left her home at the age of 14 and now lives with her partner near Sonagachi, the red light district of Kolkata where she works as ‘Khajrawali’, a transgender woman who works as a sex worker.

People belonging to the Hijra community, a cultural form in South Asia, take up the profession of Khajra (sex work), Challa or Mangti (begging for money in trains or on roads) and Badhai (blessing on auspicious occasions in return for money). And they all, like Megha, are in “deep stress.”

“I was already thrown out of one home, now they want to throw me out of this country too,” added Ms. Megha who has not contacted her parents ever since she left home nearly two decades ago. She fears for her safety “if she is compelled to contact them” just to prove her citizenship.

“They may just not let me enter the house, thinking I came back for the property; forget producing my birth papers,” said Ms. Megha, which is not her real name.

Megha is one among nearly 50,000 gender minorities of West Bengal, as per 2011 census, who are now running from pillar to post to collect birth certificates and related documents to establish their citizenship for the purpose of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The actual size of the sexual minorities is far higher, experts said, and “the situation is becoming challenging by the day for each one of them,” said Aparna Banerjee, president of the West Bengal Hijra Development Society.

NHRC survey

“According to the survey done by the National Human Rights Commission of India in 2018, only 2% of transgender and Hijra population stay with their families while the rest [98%] are abandoned. How will they produce documents of their ancestors? Most of them don’t even have their own voter ID cards because it’s only a few years ago that we got the right to vote,” said Ms. Banerjee.

Smarajit Jana, founder of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a collective of sex workers, explains how the CAA is “discriminatory” and violates transgenders and sex workers’ right to reside in the country where they are born.

“In 99% cases when the family gets to know that the newborn is a transgender, that is if they have some ‘physical deformity’ indicating that they don’t belong to either of the genders, they are handed over to the ‘Guruma’ who rears them and they become part of a different community called the Hijra community. Under the CAA they have to prove that one of the parents is an Indian citizen. How will they do that when most of them don’t even know who their parents are?” said Dr. Jana.

Not only transgenders but sex workers too are worried because a large percentage does not have a connection to their family. “Moreover, children of those sex workers will also be affected,” said Dr. Jana.

Living for decades

The sex workers said Sonagachi being the biggest residential hub of the people engaged with sex trade also houses hundreds of people from sexual and gender minority communities from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and parts of South East Asia. They are here for decades and many are “in their 70s or 80s, suffering from complex age-related diseases. How are they going to get papers?” asks a researcher, who worked in various red light areas of Kolkata.

Swati Bidhan Barua, a transgender lawyer from Assam (where the NRC has already been implemented), points out how the process of the National Register of Citizens is anti-transgender community in its technical aspects.

“The process was not at all inclusive for the transgender community, in the first application there are three options specified under Gender: Male/Female/Others, but in the second application — claims and objections application, after one doesn’t find their name in the first draft, the sex quota is absent,” Ms. Barua said.

“More than 5,000 transgenders have been excluded and the 10,000-15,000 people who were able to get their names included, their gender is marked as male and not as ‘other’,” said Ms. Barua, who has filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court herself albeit “without any result.”

“They are losing their identity for which they have fought for so long,” said Ms. Bidhan.

(The writer is an intern with The Hindu, Kolkata)

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:06:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/caa-triggers-fears-among-sex-workers-transgenders/article31077877.ece

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