In the period between May 2018 and April 2019, a total of 214 transgender persons were incarcerated in different prisons across India, according to a new report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
The report, ‘Lost Identity: Transgender Persons in Indian Prisons’, found that out of 28 states and Union Territories they spoke to, only 9 had recorded the data of transgender inmates separately from the male/ female binary categorisation. The report also found that in some prisons that were maintaining data on prison software which had the option of recording the data of Transgender persons as “eunuch.”
The report by CHRI found that a majority of Indian prisons lacked a basic understanding and awareness about the needs of transgender inmates which leads to a gap in policies and ultimately a gross violation of human rights.
There have been no awareness programs among prisoners since 2014, apart from the state of Karnataka, on the recognition of Transgender persons as a legal identity. No Transgender persons were hired between 1 January 2014 and 1 January 2019 in the prison department.
A Reuters report from three years ago reported about the neglect, abuse and a complete lack of awareness as far as treatment of transgender inmates was concerned. In November 2016, four transgender individuals were arrested and sent to Bengaluru Central Prison, accused of abduction and attempted murder, among other things.
Back then, the prison authorities had told Reuters that they housed transgender inmates separately in male and female wards.
Once transgender individuals are brought to prison, they are sent to the chief medical officer. If they have female genitals, they are classified as women. So it goes for those with male genitals. But this goes against a Supreme Court 2014 judgment that said “the gender to which a person belongs is to be determined by the person concerned”.
This has adverse consequences for transgender inmates who are often bullied, abused and assaulted by their fellow inmates. This is coupled with a deprivation of basic medical attention.
“Training and awareness (of prison staff, lawyers, police etc. on this issue) is very important,” Justice Madan Lokur, a former Supreme Court judge who helped compile the report by CHRI, said. “All institutions dealing with the police, the judiciary, institutions dealing with civil servants … need to get together to deal issues facing transgender persons.”
“A welfare state cannot say that we cannot give certain facilities to some people. Answers to questions about the problems transgender persons face can come only through adequate training, awareness and recruitment,” he added, calling for reviewing “issues with compassion.”
“The Central government may formulate a model policy on ascertaining special needs of transgender persons in prisons, and outline guidance on documentation, search procedures, placement, medical facilities and recreational/welfare/ educational activities within prisons,” the CHRI recommended.
The CHRI also recommended that “state governments/prison departments should make available the facility for inmates to self-identify as Transgender and facilitate the process of acquiring the Transgender certificate as per section 5 of the Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 from the District Magistrate, if such a request is made by the person concerned.”