This letter is jointly written by the signatories.
Dear Mr Prasanth Nair
We, the undersigned participants of the 7th Queer Pride March held on 12 August 2016 in Calicut, would like to bring to your attention the unforgivably irresponsible attitude of the Kozhikode police towards the rights of young people who identify themselves as queer, and their allies. In what should have been a completely joyous event, their attitude cast a dark shadow, for sure.
Hundreds of people came together to celebrate their uniqueness and voice their rights in the Pride March. While we were immersed in the rainbow colours and enthusiastic drum beats, little did we know that humiliation was lurking on the sides.
We are a group of young people who came down from different parts of the country for this event. Many of us were visiting Calicut for the first time. The procession moved peacefully for us till 4 p.m. till a series of humiliating experiences started unfolding. Soon, random strangers started asking intrusive questions regarding our gender, clothes, and even our hairstyles. Even after making it clear several times politely that we are here just for the event and were not available for anything else, our privacy was invaded in the most disgusting ways.
This soliciting soon turned into a nightmare when our group was having tea in a nearby restaurant. Along with us, groups of transwomen were also enjoying their tea. A table of middle-aged men in a corner started making lewd comments at them and then began to ogle at all of us. At one instance, these men asked one of us how much she charged per night for sexual favours. This led to a verbal fight as we challenged the unwanted advance. We approached the police to complain as these men were still standing on road and laughing at the crowd, and all we got from them was “what can we do, they have escaped, talk to the organisers of your event.’’
This is not the end of it: two minutes later, these men started clicking pictures of us and the transwomen, laughing and giggling, as if gearing up for some ‘real event’. Tired of the stares and comments, we complained again, this time only to find that even the police officers ogled at us, top to bottom,to figure if we were transwomen or not.
While you were on stage talking about the anti-harassment cell for women’s security in Calicut, the police force was busy assigning us genders instead of taking our complaint seriously. A man felt up one of us without consent, and we ran after him to question his act. He responded quickly, as if he had learnt those lines by heart :‘it was a mistake, forgive me, I am a cancer patient.’And again, our complaint to the officers brought no response. The crowd watching this show entreated on behalf of the offender:‘we are sure it was a one-time thing, don’t report him .’ This man came back three times, leering at us each time, but the police did not intervene. Only the last time, when we created a ruckus and complained to the community, did they throw him out.
By this time, we had been given seats in the front rows of the auditorium where the speeches and other performances were on. Suddenly, a young man made a move on one of us, asking her name. She did not respond, but that was not read at all as a gesture of disinterest. Instead, he kept asking her if she was available for the night. She still did not answer, and so he turned to another female member of our group with the same question and pestered her till a male in our group was forced to intervene. He was told: ‘Dude, but I like this girl. Why doesn’t she want to talk to me? You already have a girl, so let me get some too.’ This was unacceptable to us and we protested loudly, and had this man and his gang taken to the police officers on duty. The police asked them to leave. But again, without registering a formal complaint.
Why? Maybe because we were not dressed traditionally like ‘good girls’? Would it have helped if we were? Or, is it because we are present at the function, voicing our rights and celebrating our queerness, and offering support to our queer friends?
We were there in your presence, Mr Nair, trusting your assurances.
Now, this particular one below is the most humiliating experience of our lives, all our lives.
The program had ended and given the high concentration of creeps and the evident apathy (and even sympathy) of the police to them, in order to be safe, we took the back door to leave. But it did not help. There were queues of men who seemed to show no interest in the spirit of the Pride March whatsoever but were all-too-willing to reduce it to nothing but a place where they could purchase sex on terms favourable to them. One of them commented referring to one of us, a young woman, it is so fair and plump, imagine how would it feel to grab its ass.’ This young woman in question felt stripped of her dignity. All this while, the police stood there passive enjoying the show, perhaps.
No, it doesn’t end here even.
Three of us caught an auto (rickshaw number CC3585) and , again, a series of intrusive questions followed. A male friend was asked if he was really a man. Irritated by this, he replied, ‘of course I am a woman, otherwise why would I have a beard.’ He then demanded to know if the women were trans-women. On not getting an answer, he slipped his hand through the caged backrest of the auto and felt up one of us on her legs up from ankle to thigh. We froze for two minutes while he continued laughing. We asked him to stop the auto and he wouldn’t budge, for a while we really thought he wouldn’t and that this will turn into something even worse. A few angry responses later, he stopped and we had a fight which ended with him riding on, still leering.
After this incident we were in shock, physically and mentally drained, to find another car filled with men trying to see if they had any luck with us. When they found that there was a man with us, they apologised and drove away. Reaching the hotel we found security in each other’s embrace, still shivering with fear. We did not bother to lodge a formal complaint against the auto-rickshaw driver because by this time, experience had taught us that the Kozhikode police was more likely to side with the male oppressors than with queer victims.
After this fiasco, while having dinner, we found that a male friend in our group, while checking into International Tourist Home, a prominent hotel in Calicut, was asked to sign a bond which said that the guests wouldn’t cross-dress and leave at night.
If this was our experience as young privileged queer people, what would be the agony that underprivileged queer people undergo on a daily basis in your fair city? We have heard much about how ‘different’ Kozhikode is among towns in Kerala – on how it is more ‘open’, generous, honest, and warm. We have heard much about your zeal for good governance and justice. Now, it appears to us that these admirable qualities of the (mainly middle-aged) males of your fabled city are reserved only for those who stay within the heterosexual matrix in their public lives, and women who look traditional, tame, and docile.
We are appealing to you as someone who has openly professed concern for the queer community and who, as a responsible official, is bound to ensure dignity to all Indian citizens. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the police looked as if they didn’t care. Neither your presence nor your convictions seem to have rubbed off them even one bit.
This letter is also signed by J Devika, a feminist researcher based in Kerala, and a mother whose two daughters were in the group which suffered from the indifference of your police. She wishes to express her anger and sorrow and exhorts you to take immediate measures to ensure that the police work to protect the Constitutional rights of young people as Indian citizens, and not side with criminals.
We write this letter to you in the hope that you will inquire into the indifference of the police. Especially, we seek your aid to take action against the erring autorikshaw driver who drives the vehicle CC3585 . If this is impossible, maybe one could change the name of the city – or give it a second name – Creepland? So that innocents who come here trusting the words of responsible officers like you, and the fame about Kozhikode’s ‘generosity’, will be less duped?
Percy Arfeen, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Shruti Shukla, Young India Fellow, 2016, Ashoka University, Sonepat.
Pramit Dash, Student, Technical University of Munich, Germany
Joseph Thomas, Alumni, S.B Autonomous College,Chenganashery, Kerala
Chithira Vijayakumar, student, University of Oregon, USA
Midhun. M, Alumni, NSS Hindu College, Chenganashery, Kerala
Rajashree R, Young India Fellow,2016, Ashoka University
Sreejith S, Mentor, Make A Difference, Kozhikode.
Sriranjini R, Student, Ashoka University, Sonepat.
J Devika, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.