By Papri Sri Raman
Chennai : Eight stitches on the head and a bone fractured. This is what the Stanley Medical College Hospital had to deal with a few months ago. The patient was a member of the transgender community.
"The transgender community is so abhorred that the common person really does not mind abusing, pushing and beating the transgender person without any reason, without understanding how weak the victim is," say NGO activists who work among these groups.
Aahilya of Gumidipoondi was beaten up and her bones broken just over 50 paisa. She had gone to a petty shop with her friend Nathan, both Aravanis, as the third sex people are called in Tamil Nadu. They bought some trinkets and asked for a 50 paisa concession. The shopkeeper abused them and beat them with a stick.
Unable to defend themselves, the two friends called TAI Vizhudugal, the community group for protecting Aravanis from violence, set up recently by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative.
"We are like a banyan tree for these people," Rajakumari, a community officer (or volunteer called VCO) and an Aravani herself, explained to IANS.
How does such an outfit function?
Each area has a VCO and the Aravani networks have the contact numbers of VCO. The VCO arranges first for medical care for the injured. It then takes NGO negotiators to the place to verify the incident. Then the complaint is taken to the police and the court.
A 24-hour "task force" called TAI has been formed with an advocate and NGO staff but the main responsibility lies with community members themselves.
Explained project director R. Lakshmibai: "It is a hotline addressing social, emotional and legal issues of violence."
What mattered most to the Aravanis from Gumidipoondi was how the community rallied around them. Even as the issue was resolved, the Aravanis said their greatest victory was not in the monetary compensation Aahilya received. "Now people will know that we too have a force behind us," she said.
"Violence can be external, as well as internal", Lakshmibai explained. "We have to first understand how much of violence is happening."
The community empowerment has manifested in different ways.
"TAI provides short stay homes and initiates arbitration with families," she added, giving an example from Madurai where a transgender was ill-treated by her mother.
Counseling helped her recover from depression and she is now a trained peer educator. The mother was invited for counseling and to see the work being done by her transgender child.
In Salem, the Aravani community itself took up the issue of unsafe and crude sex change surgeries.
"Through a series of discussions, counseling sessions and sharing of experiences of those who have undergone such surgeries and are experiencing pain now."
The intervention was able to check the trend in hasty decision-making to undertake gender change surgeries.
In Erode, counseling helped a receptive partner overcome shame and train as an athlete. She went on to win competitions.
In Krishnagiri, the TAI network helped the police in the case of a murder of a transgender sex worker.
"We are trying to make the transgender groups understand that they have a behaviour problem too. That they must reduce their number of partners and look for alternative employment," Lakshmibai said.
"We have instituted a corpus, with Rs.10 as contribution from each Aravani. We have enrolled 10,000 of them for the fund, which is made available to help violence victims."
The Tamil Nadu government too has begun to address the various practical issues the Aravani community faces such as basic education, health and legal rights, and space for creative expression.
In Tamil Nadu, it is mandatory now for the district administration to assign one day in every three months as a Grievance Day for Aravanis.
That day, their difficulties in accessing entitlements such as election card, ration cards, and denial of right to property are addressed.