On Trans Day of Remembrance, we remember Tara, a trans outreach worker from Chennai who was burnt alive on the night of November 9, 2016. Tara had been forcefully taken into the Pondy Bazaar police station, where she had used her phone to call two friends for help. When they arrived some time later, she had suffered 95% burns on her body, and lay outside the station. Soon after, protests broke out in Kerala, and New Delhi, demanding justice for Tara and others who have faced this brutality.
The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held on November 20, 1999, to mark the murder of trans activist Rita Hester, in Massachusetts, USA. And since then, it has become increasingly relevant in parts of the world where trans people face violence.
Despite evidence of South Asia’s rich history with fluid gender and sexuality, trans people are kept outside of mainstream society. Actively maintained stigma against the community has pushed trans people into one of two professions (begging, and sex work) both of which put them at even higher risk of violence, and harassment from the police, and civilians too.
On the day she died, Tara had allegedly been detained by the police, when they accused her of soliciting for sex work. She had been out trying to recharge her phone. In 2004, A trans man named Christie Raj was forced to strip on a bus to ‘prove’ his gender, and the police refused to accept his complaint unless he filed it as a woman. Trans writer Nadika Nadja mentions how trans boys are subjected to corrective rape. And earlier in June, a trans woman in Pakistan was shot for resisting sexual assault.
Nov. 20 is a sobering reminder of the many hate filled actions that cost trans people their lives. But these actions do not come in surprising bursts. They tell us that transphobia is systemic. It begins when doctors and parents assign children a gender and birth, with the expectation that they will stick to that gender their whole life. It continues when children tease one another for not performing their expected gender, and teachers allow it. It begins to snowball when parents and peers refuse to use the right pronouns for a young transperson, or refuse them medical or emotional support. As if it isn’t enough to live with the reality of discrimination at work or at home, transphobia culminates in life-threatening violence.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is then not just about memorializing the lives that have been cruelly snatched away before their time. It also offers us an opportunity to assess how we contribute to this system of violence. And if we respond with anything less than a commitment to change, we’ve already permitted every act of transphobia that follows.
Featured Image Credit: Abhishek Jha.