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

Queer Women and Trans*persons’ Experiences, Rights and Choices with respect to  Shelters in Delhi 

Varsha and Rituparna Borah1 

In 2020, I left my natal home because of domestic violence and pressure to get married. My  friends helped me to get in touch with a queer organization and I stayed at the home of co founder of that queer organization. The organisation wanted to send me to a feminist (women's)  shelter home, but they knew that a women's shelter home would not be able to provide me with  the freedom and support that I would require. As a female assigned at birth I had so many  restrictions at home on what I should wear and at what time I should get back home. When I left  home I wanted to be free from all these restrictions. I don't think a women's shelter home would  have provided me with the freedom that I craved for my whole life. When I stayed at their home I  felt that freedom, freedom of gender expression, and freedom of going for a job" (Genderfluid  person, Age 26)  

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.