By Satyaki Chakraborty
NEW DELHI: People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), along with the National Network of LBI (Lesbian, Bisexual, Intersex) Women and Trans Persons (The Network), organised a press conference to present findings from a public hearing, where testimonies and lived experiences of queer and transpersons facing conflict from their families were recorded.
The testimonies were heard by an eminent panel comprising: Retd. Hon Justice Prabha Sridevan, Chennai; Asif Iqbal, Co-Founder, Dhanak, Delhi; Divya Taneja, Special Cell for Women and Children, Mumbai; Kavita Krishnan, Feminist Activist, Delhi; Manjula Pradeep, Anti-Caste Feminist Activist, Ahmedabad; Mihir Desai, Senior Counsel, Mumbai; Paromita Chakravarti, Feminist Academic, Kolkata; and Veena Gowda, Feminist Lawyer, Mumbai.
These testimonies from 32 queer and trans persons from across the country and from diverse locations with respect to age, gender, class, caste, religion and ability, reveal the extent of familial violence inflicted on LGBTIQ+ persons, thereby emphasising the need for measures to safeguard their fundamental right to personal liberty and to lead a life of dignity.
Natal family violence in the form of physical, verbal, emotional and economic abuse often begins in childhood. This manifests as restrictions on the freedom of queer, trans and gender-nonconforming persons to wear the clothes they want, their mobility, communication with friends and peers; often it means families putting a stop to their childrens’ education.
The narratives by the speakers were powerful testimonies to their struggles to be able to survive and live in the manner they want, and the panelists were all deeply moved and affected.
Recalling the visceral intensity of pain and rejection reflected in the narratives, Paromita Chakravarti quoted Retd. Hon Justice Prabha Sridevan, “It is touching that the participants use the words ‘parivaar’ and ‘family’, when families should be a place where you are safe.” Paromita Chakravarti further added, “For queer and trans people, their caste, religion, class and ability additionally impact their right to choice, and their ability to make decisions about their own lives and relationships.”
Speaking about rehabilitation of LGBTIAQ+ and gender non-conforming children escaping family violence, Veena Gowda said, “All the child-related laws are family-centric. So, even if foster care is available, only heteronormative families are considered for fostering, which might not be sensitive to the needs of LGBTIAQ+ children. A redefinition of families and marriage, therefore, is necessary for the safe rehabilitation of queer and transgender children.”
Several cis women and transmasculine persons narrated their experiences of being forced into marriages at ages as young as 14 years old. The subsequent domestic violence and rape that they faced within their marital homes occurred with the explicit or tacit approval of their natal families. Some were even forced to have children. When they escaped these violent situations, alone or with chosen partners, the families would collude to forcibly bring them or their partners back to their respective “homes” where they were placed under house arrest for months. Some were sent to “rehab” centres or psychiatric facilities and subjected to physical restraint, heavy sedation and/or “conversion therapies” in contravention of professional ethics guidelines, as also (post-2017) of the Mental Healthcare Act.
The families often employed physical violence, threats, and emotional manipulation. Several women, when they were outed as lesbian or bisexual, were subjected to threats of “corrective” rape or to actual rape by close family members, including fathers and brothers.
Kavita Krishnan said, “Such violence is incarceration and patriarchal custodial violence with the collusion of a variety of institutions and authorities – family and household, landlords, employees, police, judiciary, mental institutions, rehabilitation centres, psychiatrists, doctors…”
In many cases, the police, either in their professional or personal capacity, actively colluded with natal families in tracking down queer and trans persons who had run away from violent homes. Further misuse of police mechanisms in the form of false Missing Person or Abduction complaints was found to be rampant.
“The testimonies exposed the lack of access to constitutional rights and a complete vacuum of state machinery/protection for people in conflict with their families,” said Asif Iqbal.
The varied experiences of the testifiers show that, despite decriminalisation of adult consensual relationships, queer and transpersons remain stigmatised, and are neither free to choose their partners nor to make families and living arrangements of their choice. Their lives continue to be dominated by the diktats of and violence from natal families.
As Divya Taneja said, “The testimonies from the hearing reiterate the urgency for the State to protect the right of queer and trans persons to be free of the control of violent families, and make families of their choice.”
The Network that organised this hearing has helped many such queer and trans people who have faced violence from their natal families and other institutions. Hence in its marriage equality petition in the Supreme Court, it is making a case for queer and trans persons to be free of the control of violent families and be able to gain recognition for families of their choice in whatever way they want.
The community and civil society organisations included in the Network are: Nazariya: Queer Feminist Resource Group (Delhi), Sappho For Equality (Kolkata), Sahayatrika (Thrissur), Orinam (Chennai), Raahi (Bengaluru), QT Centre (Hyderabad), Hasrat-e-Zindagi Mamuli (Mumbai), Vikalp Women’s Group (Vadodara), SAATHII (pan-India), and unaffiliated individuals. (IPA Service)