In the last four years, the Indian Railways has arrested over 73,000 transgender persons for extorting money from commuters. Of these, a total of 13,546 were arrested in 2015, 19,800 in 2016, 18,526 in 2017 and 20,566 in 2018, it said. As many as 1,399 transgender persons were arrested in January this year, the ministry said. This was revealed in a reply to an RTI.
According to Mumbai Live, it collected ₹2.24 lakhs by fining trans people begging in Mumbai’s local trains within a period of five months in 2018. In return, the number of jobs provided to the transgender people has been nearly zero. The only ray of hope in this dark landscape was the Kochi Metro, which hired 23 transgender employees.
What has been portrayed as extortion by the Railways is actually begging, the traditional form of earning a livelihood by the Hijra community in India. It is called “Badhai”, where members of the Hijra community give blessings, dance, and sing during occasions like the birth of a child or a marriage.
This practice is buttressed by the hypocrites in our society which confer divine powers on Hijras while treating them as a sub-human species. As this Badhai practice evolved, the Hijras started begging in trains and at traffic signals too. Like any other work in an informal sector, there is exploitation and power imbalances. So, while the Gurus who order begging with daily targets are out-of-the-reach, the ones who get arrested are the poor Chelas.
The rumour fed to us all is that verbal and physical abuse will be meted out by the Hijra people. As a result, society paints the entire community with the same brush. Friction is true of all human interactions and to attribute it to a specific gender identity would be vile. One needs to understand that begging is a matter of survival for Hijra people. In fact, it evolved in the milieu of unemployment and social discrimination.
The Hijra community in India is highly stigmatised, deprived, and sidelined. A good education is the foundation for good job prospects. As basic as this is, for a transgender child or youth to receive an education with dignity and without harassment is an uphill task. Most trans Indians have little or no education and even those who are skilled and willing to work are often denied job opportunities or face so much harassment at workplace that they drop out.
The discrimination starts right at the entry level, ensuring no education and no jobs later. This is why the community members have demanded reservation in education and jobs, taking their socio-economic marginalisation into account. This was even asserted by The Supreme Court in its NALSA judgment when it asked the government to provide reservations. However, in its place, the central government brought in the outlandish Transgender Persons’ Bill which not only ignores the reservation demand but also denies a person’s right to self-identification of gender, as well as criminalising begging and the Hijra family structure.
Arresting Hijra people and fining them is not helping their cause. This is evident from the fact that the number of transgender persons arrested every year for extortion (read: begging) in trains has only increased.
In August 2018, the Delhi High Court decided on a constitutional challenge to the provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, as extended to the Union Territory of Delhi. The Court held the Act to be unconstitutional, to the extent that it criminalised begging. It noted that criminalising begging violates the most fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people in society. The Court observed that several provisions of the Act violated Article 14 (Right to Equality). The Court also found the criminalisation of begging to be in violation of Article 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution.
The Indian Constitution demands a balance of rights and responsibilities, but unfortunately, in the current circumstances, the government is denying transgender persons their due rights, while trying to corner them and push them up against the wall with faulty legislation. Making no efforts to empower the community, all that the government has succeeded in doing is make survival difficult. Does it want trans people to stop existing? Think about it the next time you encounter a Hijra person begging you to pay her so that she can eat and survive in this cruel world.