Rukshana is a Muslim and a transgender. Her family always knew that she was different than other boys her own age and she was therefore kept inside the house of her parents throughout most of her childhood. She wanted to become a teacher, but when she went to Chennai in order to pursue her dream, some of her old classmates told her parents that she had gone to Chennai just to undergo the sex reassignment surgery (SRS). When she came home to her family after a couple of weeks in Chennai they all turned against her. She was forbidden to go back to Chennai and at home she was tortured on a regular basis, beaten by her father and brothers, she was often not allowed in the house and she was deprived of both food and water. Thus, she was forced to move, and as many other transgender men, she moved to Mumbai, where she was quickly inducted into the “transgender community”. This is a harsh community run by gangsters, and due to lack of education, social acceptance and her looks, she was forced into prostitution. She managed to escape and moved back to Pondicherry. Her neighbors in Pondicherry were, however, far from welcoming. One evening in Auroville seven of them attacked her, took her into a cashew field, held a knife to her throat and raped her. They told her that she deserved it and that “this was the way she should have sex with men.” After years of low-wage jobs in Pondicherry, she finally saved up the money for the SRS procedure. After coming home to Pondicherry from the operation in Mumbai, her neighbors were standing outside the building waiting for her to come home. They ripped the drain out of her stomach and beat her to the point where she could no longer stand on her feet. She was thrown on the streets covered in blood and it was made clear that she was not welcomed in the house again. At that point, Rukshana was ready to commit suicide. But instead she called Sheetal, who saved her. And her life has not been the same since. At Sahodaran she has found a place where she belongs, a place that accepts her for who she is and for the first time of her life, she has found real friends. Sheetal, the founder of Sahodaran, has helped her to get an identity card as a transgender, she has helped her to get a job and first and foremost she, and the community at Sahodaran, has helped her heal the psychological scars her life has left her with. When her father died a couple of years ago she was not allowed to attend the funeral. She came anyway, and as a consequence a grave was dug next to her fathers and her family told her that this grave was for her and if she ever came back, they would kill her.
“Everyday was a struggle and I wanted to kill myself, because I thought that society didn’t want me. Sahodaran has given me a reason to live. They’ve given me an identity. For that I’m forever grateful.”
Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code is the law against “unnatural offences.”—Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Article 377 entails the complete prohibition of the penetrative sexual acts engaged in by homosexual men, which initially criminalizes their sexual expression and identity. Furthermore, article 377 has a severe impact on their dignity and self-worth. Police harassment, social exclusion and legal discrimination have become everyday-life for most homosexuals in India. As in the case of Rukshana, homosexuals are often shunned by their families when they come out to their parents and they are often forced to live in the streets. It is very hard for homosexuals to enter the job market and discrimination on the workplace and by employers is common. This often forces them into prostitution and begging in the streets.
The stigma and prejudice has fostered a culture of silence around homosexuality, which results in a vast number of male rapes and male prostitutes in India. Before Rukshana became a woman, she was stopped one night by the police in the streets of Pondicherry, where they ordered her to take off all of her clothes in front of a crowd of people. The police officers pocked her genitals with their knight sticks and made fun of her to great amusement for the surrounding bystanders. Sadly this situation is far from unique. Thus, many are forced to hide their sexuality because they are afraid. However, hiding one’s sexuality is difficult and often the family will find out eventually. One week ago Sheetal helped save a boy from a middle class family in Pondicherry, whose parents had wrapped him in a fishing-net with the intention of setting fire to him and drop him into the sea. Luckily he escaped.
Please help Rukshana and Sahodaran raise awareness of the devastation article 377 has caused homosexuals in India by making a small contribution to their Rainbow Walk!