(New York, November 18, 2008) - Police in Bangalore forced about 100 hijras (working-class transgender people) from their homes on November 10, 2008, suggesting a spreading pattern of prejudice-driven violence and abuse in the city, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and local authorities. Following the arrests on October 20 and 21 of more than three dozen hijras and human rights defenders, the incident points to an organized police campaign of social cleansing in Bangalore.
The latest incident came immediately after several national newspapers reported that Bangalore police had captured a "gang" of hijras who kidnapped children, castrated them, and forced them into sex work. Police used these stories to justify the mass evictions of hijras from their homes.
"Of course, all reports of child abuse should be thoroughly investigated," said Dipika Nath, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "But authorities are also responsible for sorting out fact from prejudice - and there is no excuse for targeting an entire community for retaliation."
Accounts of hijras kidnapping children and changing their sex are a common folk myth in many parts of India. These reports came amid an apparent campaign by Bangalore authorities against hijras in the city. The Mumbai-based Daily News and Analysis quoted Bangalore's Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) on October 20 as calling for a "drive against the city's eunuch menace." "Eunuch" is a widely used derogatory term for hijras.
On the same day, police arrested five hijras in Bangalore and charged them with "extortion," beating and sexually abusing them in the process. They also arrested 41 human rights defenders - including hijras, Dalits, women's rights and sex worker activists, and trade union activists - who came to their defense. When challenged on their unconstitutional actions, the police told some of the activists that they had orders from higher up to round up hijras in Bangalore.
Next, on November 8 and 9, five major newspapers in India, including two national dailies, carried news items about Bangalore police breaking up a "gang" of hijras. The gang allegedly kidnapped children, performed "sex change" operations on them, and forced them to become sex workers. The reports also claimed that the accused hijras were associated with Sangama, a Bangalore-based organization that works to defend the rights of sexual minorities. Sangama members were among the protesters against police actions on October 20-21. Sangama has denied that the two accused hijras are associated with the organization.
Immediately after these reports appeared, on November 9, the police inspector of Amrutahalli police station in Bangalore issued a notice to about 40 homeowners in the Dasarahalli neighborhood - known for having a substantial hijra population - requiring them to evict all hijras who rented apartments or rooms from them. More than 100 hijras rented rooms there, and most found themselves on the streets. Several lost their security deposits, and some lost all their belongings. One hijra told newspapers and local activists that she could not even find an autorickshaw driver to give her a ride because hijras had been labeled kidnappers.
Police claimed the hijras conducted "immoral activities" in their houses, and the eviction notice was, according to newspaper reports, also accompanied by verbal threats to the homeowners. Some of the homeowners told newspapers that they had never had trouble with their hijra tenants, but they were afraid to disobey the arbitrary command.
Evicted hijras told newspapers and local sexual rights activists that the police accusations that they engaged in "immoral activities" were unfounded, and that the kidnapping case brought against two hijras was being used as a pretext for the mass evictions. Police deny responsibility for the evictions, claiming the homeowners evicted their hijra tenants because of the charges of kidnapping in the press. However, The Hindu, a leading national daily, reported that it had a copy of the notice the police personally served to the homeowners.
Campaign for Sexworkers and Sexual Minorities Rights (CSMR), a coalition of activists and human rights organizations, has protested the police's arbitrary violation of hijras' fundamental right to reside in the city. It has also demanded that the eviction notice be withdrawn.
"The near-absolute legal and political disenfranchisement of hijras in most parts of India relies in part on myths about criminal and antisocial behavior as communal characteristics," said Nath. "Because of prevailing myths that hijras habitually kidnap young boys, reports of the arrest of two hijras on criminal charges are a convenient excuse to target the entire community without arousing public outcry."
To read the letter from Human Rights Watch to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, please visit:
For more of Human Rights Watch's work on India, please visit: