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Targeted for ‘begging’, transgender community begs to be left alone

KARACHI: The recently-launched crackdown against ‘professional’ beggars by the police in Clifton has irked members of the transgender community, who term it a deliberate attempt to harass them.

Pari*, transgender person who was arrested two weeks ago and subsequently managed to secure bail, told The Express Tribune that, “it was around 11pm on September 11, when I was travelling in a rickshaw with four of my other transgender friends through Zamzama on the road that leads to Gizri”. Around the corner, the rickshaw was stopped by police personnel, who asked them to step out of the vehicle. “We fully co-operated with the police and stepped out of the rickshaw. We were then searched by the police officers, who told us that they were looking for some transgender persons who had stolen around Rs10,000 and an iPhone of a man who had filed a case against them”. She added that all of them were promised they would be released as soon as the culprit was identified. They were taken to the Clifton Police station, and were locked up in jail with six masseurs.

According to Pari, they were kept in lockup the whole night, only to be released after a lot of protest from transgender activists the next afternoon.

“The whole night we were tormented and abused,” she told The Express Tribune. “We were told to dance or else we would be beaten up. I paid Rs5,000 to the police constable as he promised he would release us immediately but we weren’t and the next day an FIR was registered against us under the anti-beggary act and we were sent to the City Court where I paid an additional Rs5,000 to hire a lawyer to secure bail,” she added.

Komal*, who was arrested with Pari, said, “we were tormented and teased at the police station. We were called derogatory names and even told to remove our clothes and entertain the police officers.” She went on to say, “we have been booked under the beggary act but we aren’t even professional beggars”. At the time of their arrest, Komal says she was simply going home with her friends.

“We have been humiliated enough by our law enforcement agencies, now we just demand justice from courts,” said Gulabo*, another friend of Pari. “We have been given court dates one after another, our next hearing will be on October 9 at the City Court and we expect justice to be served”.

According to Section 7 of the Vagrancy Act 1958, police have the power to stop beggars, make arrests and search any person who appears to be a beggar without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant.

Station house officer (SHO) at Clifton police station Javed Abro, told The Express Tribune  that they had indeed arrested “some transgender persons” and booked them under Section 7 of the Anti-Vagrancy Act. “We had received complaints from families living in the area that they were being disturbed and harassed by gangs of beggars in the area”. He added that there were “decent families living in the area” and that they would continue the crackdown in other parts of Clifton, including Zamzama, Do Talwar and Teen Talwar. The crackdown will be targeted “especially against those who claim to be transgender and are involved in street crimes like snatching mobiles and money”, the SHO said.

Transgender activist Nisha Rao from Gender Interactive Alliance, who is actively campaigning against the illegal arrests, said she rushed to the Clifton Police Station as soon as she heard of the arrests. “The police constables lied to me that all the transgender persons were released and I later found out that they were still being held illegally,” she added.

“We have now reached out to the courts for justice,” Rao told The Express Tribune. “We were told on the first hearing of the case to pay Rs10,000 [for a favourable challan] as a guarantee to get the case dismissed,” she said, expressing her frustration over the incident. “I was there at the first court hearing of the case on September 24, where I requested the court reader to give these transgender persons jobs or else how can they even arrange such a hefty fine,” she added.

“If nothing can be done for the transgender community, why are we being targeted? I request our law enforcement agencies to have mercy on us. Instead of targeting dacoits, terrorists and other street criminals, they are targeting innocent transgender persons who have nothing to do with any such illicit activities or crimes for which they are being framed,” said Rao.

*Names of some individuals have been changed to protect identity

The Express Tribune