Paatal Lok: A Reminder Of The Need For Separate Jails For Trans Community

Trigger Warning

Cheeni in prison
Cheeni in a still from “Pataal Lok”||Credits: Prime Video

If you have watched Pataal Lok, I am sure you must have felt very uncomfortable in the scene where Cheeni, a transgender, while entering a male prison, is gazed upon by men lustily. Even more uncomfortable was the scene where Cheeni feels uncomfortable to take a bathe with male prisoners and one of the male prisoners starts masturbating by looking at her in her eyes.

John Hostettler, in A History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales has rightly described prisons as “Houses of lechery, debauchery, moral corruption and the contagious pestilence of typhus, known as ‘Gaol fever’.”

Prisons undoubtedly are like this, but more disappointing is the fact that prison officers are not sensitive even towards basic human rights. How can we then expect sensitivity towards transgender people?

That is not completely their fault either. It is the fault of our society. They don’t even believe that apart from male and female i.e. transgender also exists. Even if a person tells them that they are transgender or gay or lesbian, they refuse to believe it. They don’t think it is real and think it is just an ‘unreal’ concept developed by western countries.

First of all, they don’t realise that sex and gender are two different things. Sex is characterised by the reproductive organs. Gender is characterised by what a person thinks about themself. When a person identifies themself with their birth sex, they are called cisgender, but when a person doesn’t identify themself with their birth sex, they are called transgender. Hence, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment, NALSA V. Union of India (2014) said that, “the gender to which a person belongs is to be determined by the person concerned.

It is a very natural phenomenon. Asking a transgender person “Why are you transgender?” is like asking somebody “Why do you love your mom?”

In NALSA V. Union Of India (2014), the Supreme Court recognised transgender as a third gender. That means they are neither male nor female. Still, apart from Kerala, no other state has introduced prisons for transgender persons. It has been six years, and only one state has applied it!

Why is it being delayed? It is only because of the insensitivity of the Government. They don’t think it is even a problem. This is clear from the fact that there are hardly any parties talking about LGBTQ+ rights. I saw it in Congress’s manifesto in 2019 elections. Communist Party of India has taken various steps for the community as well. However, apart from these two parties, I have never seen any party discuss their issues.

One more thing which Paatal Lok highlights are the gender stereotypes created by the society. In Paatal Lok, the lady police officer did not even try to check once if Cheeni was a transgender woman. She just judged that she is a female by her appearance.

A lot of people are like her, who judge people by their appearance. It shows how we have created gender stereotypes. For example, long hair, strutting, pink colour, etc. are associated with girls, and short hair, muscular body, etc. are associated with boys. This is so messed up!

Transgender woman sitting in a prison
Trans Community, in absence of separate prisons, have to face assault and sexual harassment from police offers and fellow inmates. Source:

Prison officers must be sensitised about transgender people. They either make fun of them or beat them, or enable these things when other prisoners do it. So many transgender people are sexually harassed inside the prison, but rarely does it become a breaking news.

Keeping them in male or female cells violates their Fundamental Rights, mainly Right to Equality (Article 14) and Right to life (Article 21). It has been six years, and nobody is paying attention. Had the same thing happened to any cisgender person, people would have been discussing it everywhere. Just because it is related to transgender people, the Government is delaying it for the future, or it may never even be solved.

Keeping transgender people with cisgender people in prisons makes them discomforted the same way as a woman in a prison cell full of men or vice versa. That is the extent of seriousness of this issue.

Note that I am talking about prisons and not cells, because giving them a separate cell in the same prison will not solve the problem. They face problems all around the prison and not just in cells.

Therefore, it is our duty to make it a mass movement and put pressure upon the authorities to take this issue seriously.

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