November 18, 2008

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India

South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi
India-110 011

Via facsimile:

Dear Prime Minister Singh:

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express our concern over reports that suggest  an organized police campaign against hijras, as well as rights defenders associated with hijra communities, may be underway in Bangalore. These reports allege arrests, abuse, and evictions directed against these communities.

On October 20, the Mumbai-based Daily News and Analysis reported that Bangalore's Deputy Commissioner of Police (South), S. Ravi, had launched a new "drive against the city's eunuch menace." The same day, the police in Bangalore charged five hijras under several provisions of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), an incident that sparked arrests of 42 human rights defenders, some of whom were verbally and sexually abused and beaten by police.

This incident was followed on November 10 by the police eviction of more than 100 hijras from their homes in Dasarahalli in Bangalore, indicating that a broader campaign to eliminate hijras from the city is taking place. The details of these incidents are related below.  

We believe that these allegations, if corroborated, would represent significant violations of India's human rights responsibilities under international law. India is a state party to  the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes the right to not be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (article 7), the right to liberty and security of person and rights against arbitrary detention (article 9), and the right to dignity (article 10).  In its decision in the 1994 case of Toonen v Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee-charged with authoritatively interpreting, as well as evaluating states' compliance with, the ICCPR-held that sexual orientation should be understood as a status protected against discriminatory treatment under articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR.

Moreover, the police actions against the collected human rights defenders who had gathered to protest the arrests of the hijras appear to fly in the face of India's obligations to protect the rights of such advocates. 

India is further a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 7 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders specifically provides that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance." The report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders to the UN General Assembly specifically identifies human rights defenders from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities as being at particular risk and has called for greater state vigilance in protecting their rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing has specifically noted the obligations of governments to implement the right to housing, including the obligation to "abstain from carrying out or otherwise advocating the forced or arbitrary eviction of persons and groups." The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders has further noted to the International Commission of Jurists that special attention must be paid to certain groups and categories of women, including lesbian and transgender women, who are more vulnerable to discrimination in housing.

 

Details of the October 20-21 Incident

Police arrested five hijras on the morning of October 20, charged them with "extortion" and verbally and sexually harassed them. Five members of a professionally trained crisis team from Sangama-a Bangalore-based non-profit organization that works to protect and advance the rights of sexual minorities, including hijras, lesbians, gay and bisexual women and men, as well as other transgender and transsexual individuals in Bangalore and nearby areas-arrived at the Banashankari police station to assist in the hijras' release. As you may be aware, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) in India has commended the work of Sangama's crisis team as a model for providing timely services to and advocacy for high-risk populations, including hijras.

However, police also arrested, sexually assaulted, verbally abused, and beat the crisis team members, charging them under several provisions of the CrPC, including rioting-although the crisis team members were not disruptive in their meetings with the police.

About 150 human rights activists-representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people's organizations, trade union leaders, journalists as well as women's and Dalit rights activists-gathered outside the police station. Six of them attempted to engage the police in a dialogue. However, the ranking police officials at the station, Assistant Commissioner of Police H.T. Ramesh and Police Inspector Shivashankara Murthi, placed them under arrest as well, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse. Police also seized and detained another 31 activists outside the station, holding them without water or food for about 18 hours, and beating, abusing, and sexually assaulting several of them. All 42 activists were released by the evening of October 21, though several still have criminal charges pending.

 As NACO has recognized, national efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in India rely upon civil society representation. It is devastating to prevention efforts when groups that work to  prevent the spread of the AIDS pandemic and that advocate on behalf of some of the most severely oppressed as well as affected populations, are targeted by precisely the  state actors charged with protecting the rights of all Indian people.

However, it appears that this incident was merely the first in the "drive" promised by DCP S. Ravi on October 20.

Details of the November 9-10 Incident

Between November 8 and 9, major newspapers in India, including two national dailies, The Hindu and Times of India, carried news items about Bangalore police busting a "gang" of hijras who allegedly kidnapped children, had "sex change" operations performed on them, and coerced them into prostitution. The police in Bangalore reported that they had found one such individual and, on his testimony, arrested two hijras. One news story reported that the rescued boy had claimed that the hijras who had kidnapped him several months earlier were associated with Sangama, a key actor in civil society protests against the police violence of October 20-21. Sangama denies that the accused hijras were associated with the organization.

Charges of child exploitation and kidnapping unequivocally deserve thorough investigation. However, Human Rights Watch is concerned by the ready way in which these claims reflect widespread popular mythologies about hijra communities. It is critical that an impartial investigation and the mandate to protect the victims not fall under the distorting sway of prejudice, or be used to attack legitimate civil society actors or the rights of an entire community. The police actions of October 20-21 suggest that when civil society speaks out for hijras' rights, it is not safe.

Immediately following these stories, Bangalore police launched new measures against hijras. On November 9, Amrutahalli police served notice to more than 40 homeowners in Dasarahalli neighborhood in Bangalore, requiring that they evict any hijras who rented rooms or apartments from them. Police claimed that hijras were engaging in "immoral activities" on their premises; according to news reports, they accompanied the notice by verbal threats against landlords. Some homeowners told the media that they had never had trouble with their tenants; they were, however, afraid to disobey the police command, and between November 9 and 10, about 100 hijras found themselves suddenly homeless, some losing  part of their security deposits, others deprived of their belongings.

The Hindu reported that the Deputy Commissioner of Police (North-East) Basavaraja Y. Malagatti denied the police had served the eviction notices, claiming the landlords had decided independently to evict their hijra tenants following the newspaper reports of the alleged kidnapping and forced sex change. The Hindu, however, claims to have a copy of the notice that the police personally served to the homeowners.

Throughout India, hijras are denied basic citizenship rights, often unable to even get identity cards or basic education because their birth sex does not match their lived gender. Given their economic marginalization and the prevalence of prejudice against them, purging hijras from their homes significantly increases their vulnerability to physical and sexual violence-and, in turn, their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

India's status as a democracy demands at the very least effective action to end discrimination. When assaults on human rights defenders go unpunished, and police evict citizens from their homes at will, it is not only the security of victims at stake but also the security of everyone in India to enjoy their basic rights. Under such circumstances, it is incumbent upon you to both speak out and to act. 

Specifically, we ask you to institute a comprehensive investigation into the incidents of October 20-21 and of November 9-10, and take appropriate action against those found responsible. We ask that the eviction notices served by police be immediately revoked and that authorities assist the affected hijras to return to their homes or to find comparable housing. We also ask you to make a public statement condemning discrimination and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and affirming the rights of all Indian people, including hijras and sex workers, to live their lives free of societal or state-endorsed violence.

Sincerely,

Scott Long

Director

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program

Cc: Shri B.S. Yeddyurappa, The Honorable Chief Minister of Karnataka

       Shri R. Sri Kumar, DG & IGP, Karnataka State Police

       Shankar M. Bidari, Commissioner of Police, Bangalore City Police

       Shri Akhil Kumar Jain, Chief Executive Officer, National Human Rights Commission

       Ms. K. Sujatha Rao, Special Secretary & Director General, National AIDS Control Organisation, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare