While 2016 has been a year full of turmoil in terms of world politics, it has also been a year where the LGBTQ community has had to face numerous atrocities in the form of outright hate crimes, or emotional and verbal abuse. This was the year when the shooting at Orlando’s ‘Pulse’ gay club claimed multiple queer victims and left the whole world shaken, but closer home, in South Asia, things were equally disconcerting, and violence and discriminatory practices against our LGBTQ population ran rife.
Here are some of the events that shocked us, terrified us, and made us ponder the future of LGBTQ rights in our part of the world:
In the past year, Bangladesh has suffered a major blow to free speech as cases of extremist violence against writers and journalists have been on the rise. One of the most horrific attacks, however, was on Bangladeshi LGBTQ rights activist Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s first queer magazine “Roopbaan”, and Tonoy Mojumdar, another fellow activist and writer. Both were hacked to death in late April. Being LGBTQ in Bangladesh is precarious, and, due to a law that criminalizes homosexuality, the community functions largely underground. Manan and Mojumdar’s brutal murder is further evidence of the atmosphere of fear and danger that constantly shrouds people of alternate sexualities within the country.
Pakistan’s transgender community is extremely vulnerable at the moment, as several cases of hate crimes against them have emerged all through the year. However, the most shocking instance of all was when trans activist Alisha was shot multiple times in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and then, when rushed to a nearby hospital, lost her life due to the discrimination and negligence shown by medical staff. According to reports, the reason there was a significant delay in getting Alisha the treatment she needed was because the hospital staff couldn’t decide whether to put her in the ‘male’ or ‘female’ ward. Even apart from that, she was taunted and severely mistreated by medical officials because of her gender identity, and was denied proper care, which ultimately proved fatal.
While this was a case of self-inflicted violence, it was still a direct result of the emotional and physical trauma caused by the internalized homophobia in Indian society. A lesbian couple from Mumbai attempted suicide as their relationship became significantly threatened when they were outed against their consent. Though both women survived, the incident cruelly exposed how dangerous the stigma against homosexuality can be.
In a truly shocking show of transphobia and homophobia, the host of Telugu talk show “Bathuku Jataka Bandi” harassed two of her guests on air because they were a queer couple. The episode in question revolved around the host constantly shaming a 20-year-old woman and 23-year-old trans man who wanted to get married to each other, and included her saying things like: “Aren’t you ashamed for staying with another girl? I will thrash you and break your legs for doing this.”
Not only did she threaten them with physical violence, but also asked invasive questions about their sex life, exposing our society’s horrifyingly regressive attitudes to queerness.
This is the hate crime that proved to be a wake-up call for the entire nation, as various LGBTQ groups, individuals, community-based organizations (and so on) rallied to demand #JusticeForTara – the trans activist who was burnt alive in Chennai on November 9. Tara, who was an outreach worker in Kerala, had reportedly gone to recharge her phone near Pondy Bazaar police station when she was accosted by the police, accused of soliciting, and then taken into custody. Tara had managed to call two of her friends for help, but when they arrived, she was found lying dead outside with significant burns on her body. The circumstances surrounding her death became cause for suspicion and led to nationwide protests, and a petition demanding justice.
Demonetisation has proven a significant blow to the Indian trans community because of the cash crisis, but it has become further cause for violence and harassment against trans people. 23-year old transwoman Khushi was heckled and met with transphobic taunts when she was at an ATM queue, while Ritika, another transwoman, was sexually harassed. Neither woman received any help or intervention from authorities, and instead, were met with further transphobia.
It’s scary that instances such as these continue to take place, as most South Asian countries continue to criminalize and stigmatize alternate sexualities. Perhaps there is no overarching solution other than spreading awareness about LGBTQ issues and giving LGBTQ identities the visibility and acceptance they deserve. Till then, all we can hope for is that these events spur us to do better in 2017.