Queer Women and Trans*persons’ Experiences, Rights and Choices with respect to Shelters in Delhi
Admin | 10, Aug 2023
Queer Women and Trans*persons’ Experiences, Rights and Choices with respect to Shelters in Delhi
Varsha and Rituparna Borah1
Family is often a site of violence for queer woman and trans* persons2. Lesbian, bisexual and other queer cis women face different kinds of violence - corrective rape, forced marriage, converstion therapy, verbal abuse, physical abuse amongst others. Queer married women face physical and sexual violence by their husbands. Many transgender persons and gender non
conforming people are not able to wear gender affirmative clothing in their natal homes which is a gross violation of human rights leading to severe mental health issues. During these times, queer women and trans* persons have to leave their violent homes in search of greater freedom and a life that they dream of.
Goal 11 of The Sustainable Development Goals talks about making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. If we view this goal from the perspective of QWT persons, to attain Goal-11 certain actions need to be taken to support and train local governments and housing associations to take account of the specific needs of LGBT3 young people, providing specialist services such as safe housing for LGBT groups at risk of homelessness, particularly young people and the elderly, provide affordable and non-discriminatory housing options for LGBT people and take account of the specific needs of LGBT communities for safe housing.
Since queer and trans* organisations have been part of LCNs since the beginning, it is imperative for the larger community of shelter homes to understand the experiences of queer women and trans* persons in different shelter homes. It is also important to understand the expectations of QWT persons from shelter spaces. Are shelter homes easily accessible to queer woman and trans*persons? How were their experiences in a shelter home? And what has been their journey from their family home to the shelter home. Are shelter homes safe spaces for queer and trans*persons? Does a shelter home provide an inclusive environment? Does a shelter home provide freedom that queer women and trans*persons do not get at their family homes?
With these questions, we interviewed a few survivors of domestic violence and experts working with the LGBT community and some of the findings from the interviews will be presented in this article.
Are Feminist shelter homes accessible to Queer women and Trans*persons?
To understand this, we must delve into the complex nature of the category we have chosen as the subject of this article. Rituparna Borah, co-founder of Nazariya- a Queer Feminist Resource Group and a queer feminist activist, explains the nuances of QWT’s accessibility to shelters. She explains that when we talk about queer women, it is mostly on issues of sexuality. Transness is about gender. Queer women can be cis-gender or transgender. If a cis queer woman has to leave her home because of violence, it would be easy for her to access women’s shelter homes. There are a number of shelters currently running for women who are survivors of domestic violence. The PWDV Act can be used and since they are 'women' survivors, they can also be shifted to various women's shelter homes. However, this only explains admission into a shelter, and not the experiences within it.
Transwomen might find access to a few women's shelter homes in Delhi. A women’s shelter in North Delhi that mostly houses homeless people, had a transwoman resident once and the process of admission and residence was smooth. Although,this might not be the case for all transwomen..
However, if a cis queer woman’s gender expression is masculine, it gets difficult for her to access women’s shelter homes as theshelter home’s staff often misunderstands her for a
transman.4 Similarly, transmen also find it difficult to access feminist/women's shelter homes since their gender identity is that of a man.
Experience of Trans*persons in Women/Feminist Shelter Homes
Karan, (name changed) a transman (Age 27)
I was subjected to violence by my parents who were pressurizing me to marry the guy of my choice. My parents did not know that I am from the LGBT+ community, however, my siblings knew this well. Despite this, they did not support me or take my side. I was subjected to violence, pressurizing me to marry the guy of their choice. I somehow managed to find a phone and contacted the police who rescued me from home. The police kept me at the station for a long time and refused to release me, until around midnight. They also wanted me to marry a guy. When they saw the marks on my arm, they sympathized with me and tried to understand. However, once they came to know that I am from the LGBT+ community, they pressured me to go home
Through my friends I contacted Nazariya NGO, but they were not able to help me as it was late at night and their shelter home had not started at the moment. Nazariya sent me to a women's shelter home.
I did not tell the women's shelter about my gender identity. I told them that I am a lesbian woman and survivor of natal family domestic violence. I stayed in that shelter for 10-20 days. I told them I wanted to shift to Shelter Home of Queer women and Trans*persons, and I was shifted immediately, within two hours. I was sure that I wanted to stay with the LGBT+ community. The behaviour of the people in the women's shelter was good. No one discriminated against me, neither the residents nor the staff. They were quite friendly, and we received vocational training. However, we were not allowed to keep phones there, which was an issue. That was probably because they are survivors of marital violence and they need that kind of protection.
The experience at shelter home for Queer Women and Trans*persons is extremely nice. There is a helper for cleaning and we receive many items, including personal care items. Essentials and groceries are provided by them, and we cook the food on our own. Vocational training and skill building activities are provided too.
Experience of Queer women in Feminist shelter homes
Simran (name changed), a lesbian woman
I stayed in a women's shelter. The experience was neither great nor very bad. I had joined the shelter at the time of COVID, and I faced many problems with food.
My partner and I had left our homes because we were not allowed to be with each other. We came to Noida and my partner started working there. We found out that my mother and my relatives filed an FIR against my partner for kidnapping me and because of this, I was moved to a women's shelter home by Nazariya. We came in contact with Nazariya through a transwoman activist of my State.
The shelter home did not allow personal phones and one could only make a phone call in a week. We won't even know if a close one dies! However, I managed to keep a phone. Another resident discovered my phone and told the staff members. The good part was that they did not make a big issue out of this. No one knew I was a lesbian woman. However, another couple lived in the shelter, two cis women. Because of a fight, another resident screamed homophobic things at them. The staff had interfered and explained to them strictly that this is wrong and that their perception towards queer women needs to be changed.
This incident had impacted me a lot and I did not dare to talk about my sexuality with anyone. The other couple stayed together, and once when I was with them, I asked them if they were a couple. They said yes, and I, too, confided in them that I am also queer. They understood it. I moved out of that shelter in around 10 days after receiving a favorable judgement in the Court. I have been living with my partner since, moving cities, as their work demands.
When incidents of homophobia and transphobia occur, how does the shelter home staff handle the situation? Are there any standard operating procedures to tackle the situation? After that incident, did the shelter home try to have any workshop or training about LGBTQ+ identities with shelter home staff and residents?
Another question with such shelter homes is the issue of accessing phone calls. The fear that many case workers have regarding tracing of phones is real. However, would it be alright to keep such strict rules for adult women?
Separate Shelter homes for Trans*persons
The Indian Government has established 12 Garima Greh in 8 states to safeguard the rights of Transgender persons and protect the interest of the community. Neetu Kumar, a trans activist working as the Project Manager in Garima Greh, a shelter home for trans people affiliated with Mitr Trust (a community-based organization), shares that separate shelters have proved much more comfortable for both the trans community as well as cisgender people. One must recognize the fact that these are two separate communities with distinct (personal lives and) needs. Many problems can arise between the two. Sometimes members of either community are not comfortable with the others’ presence, and they feel like an invasion of privacy. For example, washrooms pose as major challenge as many cisgender women have shown signs of discomfort with respect to transgender women. So, in these circumstances, separate spaces are preferred.
She further shares that the company of other trans persons helps the new survivors feel accepted and validated in their gender identities. Residents find respite from the abuse and violence faced at homes. Two transmen also underwent gender affirmative surgery. Many transwomen are able to fully express themselves through clothing, make-up and language. The community is tightly interwoven and supportive and stands tall for needs of other transgendered individuals going through abuse.
Amir, an LGBTQ+ rights activist who has been working with several organizations and shelter homes for the rights and empowerment of LGBTQ+ people at grassroots level,- works with a shelter home for trans men. Apart from managing projects for transmen, he has also been part of the organizational helpline. He explains that trans people who contact shelters have a history of violence– which includes violence from homes or communities, and consecutive escape, alone or with partners. They are in dire need for safety and residence in both cases. Families and/or communities form the first– and mostly the gravest– centers of transphobic and homophobic violence. Many family members further pursue and harass the survivors in the shelters, sometimes making false legal cases against them. Separate shelters help survivors pursue and cope with these challenges in a way that the survivor wants to. Shelter staff or counselors make no decision for them, rather only help facilitate their own.
The only concern about Garima Greh's is that they don't allow cis-women partners of transmen to stay in the shelters. Similarly, shelter homes for transmen don’t allow such partners to stay together. In such cases, when a couple (transman and cis-woman) leave/escape a violent home, it becomes difficult for them to stay together. Does the solution to such issues lie in opening up shelter homes for queer people too? In fact, Madras High Court, in a recent judgement in
W.P.No.7284 of 2021 dated 18.02.2022 had directed to consider extending the Garima Greh Scheme to all persons belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community and not to confine it to the Transgender persons.
Experiences of Couples in Shelter Homes
There aren’t many places that give shelter to a transman and his partner (cis-woman) who leave their homes because of domestic violence. Feminist shelter homes and transgender shelter homes do not provide spaces for the couples to stay together. Feminist shelter homes do not provide spaces to transmen and transgender shelter homes do not provide spaces to cis-women.
When couples run away together from an abusive family all they want to do is stay together. When shelter homes don't provide the space for them to stay together is another act of violence. It violates their right to choose to stay with the partner of their choice.
However, in the current times, women's shelter homes run by feminist groups have started opening up their spaces for cis-queer women couples. There is an organisation called Dhanak that provides shelters for couples including a transman and his cis-woman partner.
Jyoti (name changed), a queer woman
I had come to Chandigarh for a job. My partner, a trans man, had run away from his home, as his family was very abusive. His mobility was curtailed. He did not feel understood there, and so he decided to run away.
We had gone to the high court. We received no help, when finally we were able to find an advocate who takes up cases of queer persons. An advocate and an activist named Archana (name changed) helped us immensely in our journey and we were able to find an inclusive shelter home in Delhi. We resided there for 10 days, and then came back to Chandigarh. Our experience at this shelter home was very good. They keep residents only for a week. The staff was very nice. They behaved with us like family, and still do, even after we have left the shelter. The environment was very nice. There was privacy for us, and we could keep phones with us. We used to cook our food. There was a househelp for cleaning purposes.
There was a new couple at the shelter, so we had to shift. We went to a shelter home for disabled women. We didn't like the place, or our fellow residents. We informed Nazariya about this to Nazariya, and mentioned that we wanted to go back to Chandigarh. Nazariya and Archane helped us come here.
In compliance with the direction of Supreme Court of India W.P. 231 OF 2010 dated 27th March, 2018, Delhi High Court in W.P 1122 of 2020 dated 11th September, 2020 directed the Government of Delhi to submit a status report about special cells and safe houses for couples. Govt. of NCT Delhi has started shelter homes for couples. A transman and his cis-woman partner stayed in this shelter.
Pulkit (name changed), A transman
I came with my partner Parkhi to Delhi. My parents were abusive and therefore, I had to look for a shelter in Delhi. Earlier, when I had left home, I had stayed in a transmen shelter. I found a sense of community at the shelter for transmen. The safety. acceptance, and validation for one’s identity boosted my confidence. This time, when I came to Delhi with my partner, a shelter home for couples gave me shelter and later we shifted to a government shelter's home. The shelter home recognised our identity and accepted us as a couple, and this makes me feel liberated and recognized.
1 "Article published by Nazariya under the aegis of LCN Network on Shelters for Survivors of Gender-based Violence; LCN acknowledges the contribution of Aanchal Khulbe to this article"
2 This article focuses on issues of queer women and trans* persons. Queer women can be defined as all those persons who identify as women and identify as lesbian, bisexual, asexual or any other sexual orientations. A trans* person can be defined as anyone who do not conform and identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Trans* is an umbrella term to denote everyone who are not cis-gender.
3 L- Lesbian, G- Gay, B-Bisexual, T- Transgender persons Shelter homes for 'female' survivors of violence have long been a space of discussion and debate by the government and women's rights organisations. This issue was recognised by several women's rights activists and LGBT*QIA+ groups which led to two national-level consultations in 2016. These vigorous conversations led to the genesis of an informal, national network of shelter homes called Lam-lynti Chittara Neralu (LCN). Over the years, LCN's aim is to expand the notion of what it means to be a 'woman and girl' accessing safe shelter spaces.
4 Gender expression and gender identity are two different things. Gender expression is how a person expresses themselves through their appearance, clothing, makeup and behavior etc. A cis-gender woman can have masculine gender expression.