Dawood Ibrahim has a Stake in Jet Airways

A Jet Propelled By Don Ibrahim

clip_94An exclusive extract from Josy Joseph’s book on Dawood’s hold over Indian business and the questionable rise of Jet Airways



clip_94Investigative journalist Josy Joseph’s book A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India reveals that intelligence agencies had given inputs of links between mafia don Dawood Ibrahim and Jet Airways promoter Naresh Goyal in the early 2000s. Many notes were sent to then deputy PM L.K. Advani, but nothing was done—even after the government was shattered by the Kandahar hijack. In fact, soon after the hijack, Goyal was given security clearance for Jet. The exclusive extract here shows the hold Dawood has over Indian business, the questionable rise of Jet Airways and the politicians who benefited from it.

Intelligence Bureau chief K.P. Singh and his senior colleague, the joint director Anjan Ghosh, took an elevator down North Block to an official vehicle waiting in the basement on a summer day in 2002. A short distance away, at the circular building housing the houses of Parliament, members were agit­ated over a letter Ghosh had written a few months earlier.

It was a single-page note to Sangita Gairola, joint secretary at the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), saying that his agency had “confirmed information of intermittent contacts between Naresh Goyal and underworld dons, Chhota Shakeel and Dawood Ibrahim, to settle financial issues. There is strong suspicion that parts of Goyal’s investments may have accrued through the help of und­erworld groups, prominently headed by Dawood and Chhota Shakeel”.

clip_94Ghosh further says that Goyal and Jet Airways had been steady rec­ipients of large dubious investments originating from Gulf sheikhs. “Naresh Goyal’s bonhomie and close business links with the Shaikhs have been known for over two decades. These connections are believed to have been used repeatedly not only to get direct investments, but also to get a lot of tainted Indian money laundered and recycled into business in India. Much of this kind of money is generated through smuggling, extortion and similar illegal practices,” the letter said.

clip_94The letter of December 12, 2001, emerged in the media suddenly and caused an uproar. At the next session of parliament, there were vehement demands from members across parties to know the truth. One of the members, Raju Parmar, had asked a starred question in Rajya Sabha, which the home minister had to stand up and give a verbal answer to, and not just table a written reply. To a starred question, there could be instant supplementary questions that the minister had to answer. Parmar’s question was listed for May 7, the morning on which K.P. Singh and Ghosh were hurrying up to the Parliament building.

Waiting for the two senior IB offi­cials was India’s then deputy prime minister and home minister, L.K. Advani, whose public discourses frequently revolved around the theme of how closely Indian politics was linked to the underworld. The BJP, as well as Advani, had always taken a tough position on the issue. Advani listened patiently as the two officials told him about the evidence they had of Goyal’s links with the underworld. In recent months, they had at least three telephone intercepts of his conversations with Dawood and Shakeel, the officials said, adding that there was other evidence too, according to one of the officials present at the meeting.

Advani looked shaken and determined after the meeting, the official said. “He was clear that this could not go on. I thought Jet Airways would be shut down in a matter of days,” the official said to me over a decade later. By the time I met him, sometime in 2014, Jet Airways had become a flourishing international airline, Goyal a darling of politicians and civil servants, and Advani a pale shadow of his once formidable, divisive self. One of his political pupils, Narendra Modi, would soon be the one steering the BJP to a more agg­ressive and popular phase.

As head of the interior security ministry, Advani was second only to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the tumultuous years between 1998 and 2004, during which India tested nuclear devices, fought a limited war with Pakistan and had to deal with the repercussions of two major terrorist attacks: the hijack of a passenger aircraft and an attack on the Parliament building. Indian political rhetoric has always been shrill on the issue of terrorism, but despite decades of struggling with it, the country has no robust responses in place to deal with non-state actors.

The Query to the MHA

On January 31, 2000, exactly a month after the IC-814 hijack, civil aviation secretary Ravindra Gupta chaired a meeting on the issue of security clearance for air ope­rators. In attendance were four senior officials, including Sangita Gairola (to whom Ghosh had later written the letter linking Jet Airways to the underworld). She told the meeting that, in the light of the suspected und­erworld links of East West Airlines and the bizarre incident of the arms drops in Purulia in West Bengal—a Latvian AN-26 aircraft flew over India undetected and dropped several hundred AK-47 rifles and more than a million rounds of ammunition on December 17, 1995—security agencies had already tightened the security clearance mechanism. The ghost of IC-814 haunted the meeting, but nobody mentioned it, at least according to the official minutes. One of the key questions was which ministry should be the nodal agency for providing security clearance to air operators.

On March 25, 2000, Gairola wrote to the civil aviation ministry, conveying her ministry’s comments to the questions raised at the meeting. Paramount was that “the authority empowered to give security clearance would be the ministry of home affairs” and that “security clearance would be required at every stage”, such as the induction of new directors to an operator’s board.

Around this time, Mesco Airlines sought permission to induct two new directors to its board. V.P. Bhatia, an undersecretary in the home ministry, wrote to the civil aviation ministry denying permission, as the two were under investigation by the CBI for forgery and falsification of accounts. In the case of the Delhi Flying Club board too, Bhatia wrote refusing security clearance to Congress party leader Satish Sharma, a close associate of the Gandhi family, because of criminal cases against him. The NDA government was sending out a clear signal: it was not willing to compromise national security, especially in civil aviation.

Advani listened as the two officials told him of Goyal’s links to Dawood. He was clear it could not go on. But by 2014, Goyal’s airline was flourishing.

On March 8, 2000, the civil aviation ministry sent the details of the reconstituted board of directors of Jet Airways to Advani. It included eight non-resident Indians and five foreigners. The home ministry under Advani—Iron Man to his followers, known for his firm stand on issues—sat on it for months, even though the civil aviation ministry kept shooting off reminders. The government had given several assurances to Parliament over questions from members regarding Jet Airways, and that too was weighing on him. On January 4, 2002, civil aviation secretary A.H. Jung wrote to his counterpart in the home ministry, Kamal Pande, about the several reminders they had sent on the issue. He pointed out that Jet “continues to operate as scheduled airline, without proper security clearance for their reconstituted board”.


At the end of three years, IB chief K.P.­ Si­ng­h gave a strange twist to the entire case. He claimed his agency had earlier agreed to give Jet Airways security clearance bec­ause “nothing specifically adv­erse was available at that time either against the airlines or its directors on the records of the IB and the R&AW”. He wrote to the home ministry: “Whatever information has since emerged about Jet Airways or its owner Naresh Goyal from R&AW and other sources does not seem to be of the nature that would justify the withdrawal of sec­urity clearance earlier given to the airlines.” That put an end to intelligence inquiries into Jet Airways’s dubious funds and its promoter’s links to Dawood.

These exchanges between the various departments have remained buried in government files for years, and would have been there forever, had not a contact of mine handed them over to me at great personal risk.

A handful of officers in the security establishment had spent a significant part of their professional lives tracking Naresh Goyal, the origins of his business, his questionable business deals (and those of many of his friends) across the political spectrum and the underworld. With each change of government, these officials thought tough action would be taken. But Goyal continued to flourish.


Singh’s note omitted no facts. Before absolving Goyal, he said that the Jet Airways owner “appeared to have earned his wealth through smuggling and other illegitimate means and that the airlines was probably investigated for FERA [Foreign Exchange Regulation Act] violations”. Singh also pointed out that Goyal had in the past been accused of adopting unfair business tactics to undermine rival airlines, such as purchasing of union leaders and exploiting political connections. “Such tactics are, however, not uncommon in a highly competitive business milieu and while such traits refl­ect unfavourably on his professional ethics, they do not impinge on national security,” Singh wrote.

His note referred to the input given a few months earlier, detailing Goyal’s links with the Dawood gang. It added that the inputs “were mainly procured from the R&AW” and that the intelligence agency had “indicated their inability to further develop the information alr­eady given by them” except to say that Goyal “had earned his wealth through smuggling and other illegitimate means”. Singh didn’t mention the IB’s own intercepts of talk between the Dawood gang and Goyal—intercepts that his own agency had earlier rep­orted to the government.

Curiously enough, the home ministry—even Advani—raised no objections, though it was only months earlier the home minister stood in Parliament to assure the house of appropriate action.

Singh’s letter contradicted what Anjan Ghosh had said a few months earlier. “It was a simple case, and there was no doubt about what the ministry’s position should have been,” one of the officials who dealt with the case told me.

On the IB chief’s cue, the home ministry gave up its authority to issue security clearance and instead left it to the civil aviation ministry. Of all the records I have gone through regarding security clearances for private air operators, Jet Airways’s is the only case where the home ministry gave up this right.

Mukesh Mittal, a director in the home ministry, wrote to the civil aviation ministry that they had found “certain adverse inputs against Shri Naresh Goyal, chairman of the Jet Airways”, and attached a gist of the inputs on him, which repeated almost all the points raised originally by Anjan Ghosh and K.P. Singh, and reproduced Ghosh’s letter almost verbatim. “Report, though unconfirmed, ascribes this exponential growth in the company’s holding due to money transfers through hawala (illegal money transfer) channels,” the note concluded.

After this indictment, Mittal’s note concluded: “In view of this position, the ministry of civil aviation may please consider the proposal keeping all aspects in view and take an appropriate decision.” He added that the order has been issued with the “app­roval of the home secretary”.

Once again, Advani did not seem to have any comments on the issue. Yet, he cannot be singled out for blame in a system where ambivalence and obfuscation—not positive articulation—mark the conduct of business.

Despite the government’s almost clean chit, the intelligence agencies never closed their files on Jet Airways. As of 2015, I had confirmation the case was open. The former chief of an intelligence agency said the case could never be closed. “It is a test case for us, and it is a shame that, despite such overwhelming evidence, we couldn’t take any action,” he said one evening, as we discussed the deep roots of the underworld and criminals in Indian politics and business. He argued that the extent of Dawood’s network had not yet been revealed to the public.

Over the years, intelligence agencies have been gathering significant evidence of Dawood’s connections with many political leaders and businessmen from his hiding place in Pakistan. He has evolved very sophisticated ways of keeping in touch with the Indian elite and businesses. A Union minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA government, which was in power between 2004 and 2014, had been exchanging notes with him through a resident of south Delhi, who was also suspected to be a bookie manipulating cricket games. According to several int­ercepts by R&AW over the years, the bookie had been negotiating through the minister for Dawo­od’s return to India. The don was willing to spend a few years in an Indian jail if he was all­owed to return. The Karachi-based don had never felt at home in Pakistan; it was in India that he built his fortunes and followers. In these intercepts, the south Delhi resident is heard promising Dawood and his key aides that the minister would try to get the government to offer Pakistan a deal to extradite Dawood. Officially, India had been demanding that Pakistan return Dawood to India, but Pakistan continued to deny he was in its territory.

A prominent regional political satrap from Uttar Pradesh used to receive messages from Dawood through couriers sent from Mumbai, according to dep­endable intelligence operatives who have watched it closely. Dawood and his aides would send their messages to a Mumbai-based Muslim preacher, and he in turn passed on the information through trusted youngsters recruited from Uttar Pradesh. The couriers have been used dozens of times in the past decade, an official claimed.

He lingers on in movies, politics, betting, drug smuggling, land deals, construction—and in the imagination of the security establishment. In the summer of 2013, when the police forces of Delhi and Mumbai exposed the widespread practice of illegal betting and fixing in the cash-rich Indian Premier League, they said the Dawood gang ultimately controlled the betting syndicates. Delhi police charged several people, including former Indian cricketer S. Sreesanth, under the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA), saying that they had indulged in spot-fixing during matches at the command of Dawood and his key aide Chhota Shakeel. Though the evidence was untenable, allegations of links to Dawood is an effective ploy to strengthen and sensationalise any case, and also to cover up the agencies’ weak investigation skills. In 2015, a Delhi court threw out the Delhi pol­ice’s claims. Dawood has, meanwhile, grown into an enigma, a nightmare, and an unavoidable reality of the daily existence of modern-day India.

On queries from Singapore and UK about Jet Airways’s dubious links, New Delhi took the stand that the airline posed no security concerns.

That said, he also survives because of deep-rooted contacts within the security establishment itself. On July 11, 2005, a joint team of Mumbai and Delhi police intercepted a car in the national capital and arrested Vicky Malhotra, a key aide of Dawood’s rival Chhota Rajan, who was wanted in numerous criminal cases, including murder and extortion. Sur­p­r­i­singly, accompanying Malhotra was Ajit Doval, a former chief of the IB and one of India’s most celebrated spies, who went on to become the nat­ional security advisor (NSA) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Some intelligence sources said Doval, despite his retirement, was part of an ongoing IB operation to use the Chhota Rajan gang to target Dawood. Some said Doval was acting on his own. Investigations revealed that Dawood had contacts within the Mumbai police and that they had created an alert about Malhotra and thwarted Doval’s operation. The police promptly sacked an inspector who was in touch with the Dawood gang. A few days after this drama, Dawood’s daughter married the son of famous Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad. The reception was held at Dubai’s Grand Hyatt hotel. Speculation was that Doval was planning to target Dawood and his gang if they att­ended the Dubai reception. But Dawood turned the tables on him and one of India’s most celebrated spymasters was caught on a Delhi road with a criminal.

Regarding the Dubai reception, the US embassy in New Delhi cabled to their headquarters: “Like a bad dream, terrorist and underworld figure Dawood Ibrahim returned to the headlines of India’s media in July when his daughter married the son of a famous Pakistani cricket player. An upscale wedding reception brazenly took place at the ostensibly American-run Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai on July 23. Ibrahim, India’s most wanted man for the 1993 Bombay bombings that killed hundreds, and a US Specially Designated Global Terrorist, reportedly did not attend the event. One media outlet mentioned, however, that Ibrahim, believed to be living in Pakistan, travelled on forged documents to witness the nikah (wedding) ceremony of the couple on July 9 in Mecca. The wedding and subsequent reception generated intense int­erest in the Indian media, which reported that Indian police and security services were shadowing business, entertainment and underworld figures from India who might try to attend the reception. In the end, no prominent Indians actually showed up in Dubai. The manner in which Ibrahim could so blatantly stage such an event has infuriated our Indian contacts.”

Dawood tripped up Doval, getting him caught with a criminal on a Delhi street

To succeed in India, it is important to have friends across the political spectrum and deep inside the system. The end of right-wing rule in the summer of 2004 didn’t change much for Naresh Goyal—quite unlike the fate of East West Airlines when the Congress lost power almost a decade earlier.

Goyal had friends in all the right places. One of the key regional parties in the new ruling dispensation, the UPA, was Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Cong­ress Party (NCP), which, acc­ording to New Delhi’s political grapevine, insisted on getting the civil aviation portfolio. Praful Patel, a flamboyant businessman whose family made its fortunes in tobacco, and who is known to be a key aide of Pawar’s, became the civil aviation minister.

Around the time that the new government was coming to power—when India had yet not permitted its private airlines to fly abroad—Jet Airways began applying for slots at the London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok airports. When the matter came up in Parliament, Patel said the airline was doing all of this at its own risk. What he did not say was that a committee appointed by the previous government had submitted a detailed roadmap for expansion and modernisation of the aviation sector. And that an exercise had already been initiated to implement just one of the recommendations of the committee: permit private airlines to fly abroad. This was not publicly known, nor was Parliament told about it. Within months, Jet Airways became an international airline.

As Jet Airways prepared to launch its services in the US, Maryland-based Jet Airways Inc filed complaints before various authorities, asking that the Indian company be denied permission to fly to the US, accusing it of trademark infringement. Its CEO and president, Nancy M. Heckerman, also said that Jet Airways of India was an Al Qaeda company. Her objections were marked to the Indian government by the US, asking for clarifications. Within months of the May 23, 2005, complaint, the government of India officially communicated to the US that there were no security concerns with respect to Jet Airways.

Even as the airline was awaiting US clearance, similar queries about its links to dubious outfits emerged from the governments of Singapore and UK in 2006 after a Jet Airways employee in London, Amin Asmin Tariq, was arrested for alleged links to the foiled bid to blow up transatlantic flights with liquid bombs. New Delhi was consistent in its stand: Jet Airways posed no security concerns. Officials who had been watching Goyal and Jet Airways for years told me that the government’s enthusiasm was surprising. “Not only did the government give a certificate of good conduct to them, but it put its diplomatic might behind the company,” said one senior official in the security establishment. Another one said the political establishment may have given a clean chit, “but the Indian intelligence agencies can never close the case”.

In January 2006, Jet Airways offered to take over Air Sahara, part of Subrata Roy’s Sahara group. Much like Goyal, Roy too had made a mysterious climb up the big-stakes ladder. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of India sent Roy to jail in a running battle between the Sahara group and the country’s capital market watchdog, the Securities and Exc­h­a­nge Board of India (SEBI), over inc­onsistencies in the accounting of Rs 24,773 crore that it claimed to have collected from 3.1 crore investors. The add­resses of most of these subscribers couldn’t be verified, and Roy’s legal team was acc­u­sed of trying to mislead the market regulator and courts. As of mid-2016, he continues to be in jail.

Let’s return to his airline interests, though. In January 2006, Jet Airways offered to buy Air Sahara for Rs 2,300 crore in the biggest deal yet in Indian aviation history. There was concern among some analysts that Jet was overpaying. The civil aviation ministry gave an in-principle approval, but concerns about security clearance came up again in the context of Goyal joining the Air Sahara board. A minister in the UPA government took aside the chief of an intelligence agency involved in the matter and told him to be meticulous in dealing with it. “I was surprised because he was known to be a Goyal man, and here he was telling me to be firm with Jet Airways,” the official told me. As instructed, the agencies were meticulous, thus delaying the process, and as a result, the deal collapsed. Both sides filed lawsuits against each other. Strangely, a day after the deal officially collapsed, Goyal’s security clearance came through, this time from the home ministry.

Sahara’s ventures were running in losses, and the group had been scrambling for cash. It restarted negotiations with Jet. This time, a desperate Sahara settled at Rs 1,450 crore, almost 40 per cent less than the original offer. “I have rarely seen Subrata Roy so helpless,” one of the key negotiators in the deal told me during a meeting in Mumbai. “Nareshji was in complete command.”

As the Jet Airways juggernaut powered ahead, the Indian aviation market—like the Indian economy itself at that time—was exploding. In 2000-01, a total of 1.4 crore passengers flew in Indian carriers; the number jumped to 4.5 crore by 2009-10. Many of India’s cattle-shed airports were overhauled and private businessmen entered aviation, reaping rich rewards.

Around the time that the Jet Airways-Air Sahara deal was being negotiated, the government decided to overhaul Delhi’s old airport. Delhi International Airport Private Ltd was incorporated with the government holding 26 per cent of the shares, the rest held by a consortium of private players, including Fraport and Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad. Leading the private consortium with 50.1 per cent stake was India’s GMR group. Such public-private partnerships (PPPs) are among the defining features of India’s efforts to reform its economy, especially the crumbling infrastructure. The Delhi airport symbolises India’s economic resurgence, its quest to modernise infrastructure, the partnerships that shape ‘new India’ and the questionable deals undermining all of it.

In July 2004, when bids were invited for redevelopment of the airport, GMR was not among the front-runners. But in January 2006, it was the consortium led by GMR that was appointed to redevelop the 5,106-acre Indira Gandhi International Airport. Then, in August 2012, government auditor CAG rel­eased a damning indictment of the airport project, acc­using the government of blatant favouritism to the joint venture (JV), resulting in public losses running into billions of dollars. The CAG also found that a clause limiting the JV’s terms to 30 years, to be extended by another 30 years through “mutual agreement and neg­otiation of terms”, was mysteriously omitted from the final contract, making it easier to extend the JV contract. This was particularly ominous because it was a decision arrived at by the UPA council of ministers. The airport operator had been allowed to lease land for commercial exp­loitation at a far lower rate than even the amount government agencies were paying. For a meagre Rs 100 as annual rental and a one-time payment of Rs 6.19 crore, the ope­rator had been allowed to use land with earning potential of Rs 1,63,557 crore over the concession period of 58 years. Each passenger flying out of the airport was, and still is, forced to pay a user fee, which was not part of the contract provisions. The 44-page report is packed with an enumeration of fav­ours to the private consortium. The rep­ort resulted in the usual round of protests and outrage, which died out in a few days.

Slide Show

Working through college with a job at a relative’s travel and ticketing agency, Naresh Goyal moved on to handling sales, marketing and logistics for various international airlines in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. In the 1990s, with the opening up of the Indian economy, he ventured out on his own, and he launched Jet Airways, seen as a major success story. The political connections that helped the rise have always been whispered about.


Sachin Tendulkar is Corrupt, Too

clip_9-2There was always something very awkward about the manner in which ­Sac­hin Tendulkar brought his blood-red Ferrari 360 Modena to Mumbai 13 years ago. He sought a waiver of import duty of Rs 1.13 crore from the then NDA government, which dutifully changed the law to allow him to bring in the car that was a “gift” from its maker Fiat (of which he was brand ambassador), after he had equalled Sir Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries. And then, having received that benefit, he applied for an additional waiver of its road-worthiness test which cost but Rs 15 lakh. The question of whether a cricketer with more zeroes in his bank balance than on his career stats could not have chosen a more graceful way of enjoying the fruits of his success was quickly buried under the claptrap of his “contribution” to the game. The revelation now that Tendulkar cut short a visit to Australia last year and flew back home expressly to meet the current NDA’s defence minister and bat for a business buddy in a property dispute with the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) places his “timing” in rather sad perspective.

For, Sachin Tendulkar, unless he hasn’t realised it, is now much more than a celebrity. He is a celestial object which is now in that rarefied orbit defined by the Bharat Ratna. Some even call him “God”. That a man who can barely find the time to hop over to Delhi to attend the Rajya Sabha flew halfway across the globe to bat for a pal is a fine testimony to friendship, of course, but it is a poor adv­ertisement for a role model of young millions.

There is no use saying that Tendulkar isn’t alone, that all of us do it, but a nation expects its crown jewels to conduct themselves, in public and in private, with finesse and responsibility. Seeking ministerial help for a purportedly illegal construction not merely reduces the halo but shows the enormous distance Tendulkar has traversed in his mind from his middle-class moorings. His willingness to allow brands to exploit his “highest civilian honour” to peddle products on television only proves that Mammon can blind even a Master with the keenest of eyes.

It doesn’t sound nice saying this, but there are some things a man who has everything need not do. Somebody’s gotta tell the Blaster which ones.


The Other Kashmir Family Album

When the slumber of a society’s conscience is deep and layered, art hopes to jolt the benumbed giant…here’s a rude awakening, administered virtually.

As India debated the pros and cons of using pellet guns on protesters in Kashmir, and whether they were being used as a last resort or the first, a Pakistani civil society group, ‘Never Forget Pakistan’, used art to convey the sheer brutality—and the utter meaninglessness—of the “least lethal” device that the Central Reserve Police Force deployed in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani.

Its campaign, with the hashtag #IndiaCan’tSee, went viral on social media and used photoshopped pictures of Indian celebrities such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cricket captain Virat Kohli and Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan, with one or both their eyes bandaged and their faces pockmarked with the injuries caused by the pellets. It asked the viewer: just imagine.

The cruelty didn’t stop there. Short and mock-sympathetic letters from the kin of real victims­—the teenager who had stepped out for milk, the boy who was going for tuition, the one who was returning from cricket practice—ran alongside. A searing missive addressed to Amitabh Bachchan summed it all up: “Stay silent, stay safe. You still have the opportunity to enjoy your old age with your children”.

Recently, the CRPF chief said he felt sorry for the injuries caused by the 2,102 pellet cartridges fired in the Valley. The climbdown was a slim acknowledgement that something very wrong was happening. However, the use of the “least lethal” weapon will continue in Kashmir. In some other world, these words would hurt more.

“Dear Ashwariya

clip_15I got to know you got shot by CRPF when trying to save your 4 year old daughter Aaradhya. I have seen a lot in my life living in Kashmir but I would have still struggled to bel­ieve that they were trying to shoot a 4 year old. But they shot mine.

Zuhra, still thinks it was fire crackers used by the Police which injured her. She is too young to understand what are guns and bombs and why would they be used against unarmed people. Perhaps if mothers in India could raise their voice for each other’s children, their own would remain safe as well.”

Naseema Jan, Kashmir

“Dear Alia

clip_16I heard you are in the ward next to me. I am such a big fan I don’t want to bother you right now. Take rest and try not to stress. I know you must be scared and thinking why you were targeted when you did nothing.

I was also shot when I was playing in my veranda. My Abba was also confused. He asked why I was targeted when I am not even a separatist and I am only 11. He got no response. I guess when the world is silent, cruelty knows no boundaries. So we have to be strong for each other. If you need someone to talk to, I am here.”

Insha Mushtaq, Kashmir

“Dear Kajol

clip_18I am sorry I haven’t been able to come check on you. My daughter Tamanna who is 9 gets tense if I leave her side. She feels unsafe even in the hospital bed.

How can I blame her. She was standing in the kitchen, within the safety of her home when a pellet hit her eye. In Kashmir the Police doesn’t need a reason to shoot they only need a target. That they found a 9 year old and it was enough for them. I hope you recover soon and tell the world what the Police is doing in Kashmir. As a mother I am sure you will understand my pain.”

Shameema, Kashmir

“Dear Mehbooba Mufti

clip_19We are sorry for the loss of vision in your right eye. I was also shot in my right eye by the forces, while comming back from the medical store. The local doctors say I have lost my vision and I can’t see anything. Even I can’t see your pictures with my family members who were forced to meet you in a dak bunglow.

I can understand, at this stage you would not be able to visit our house. Because of your injury & blindness. Many more are critical, they are fighting for their lives…. We all are Kashmiris. We have no one to speak for us. As a Kashmiri I have nothing but patience to keep me strong. I hope you will ask your friends to stop killing us.”


“Dear Modi ji,

clip_20-2We have performed the initial surgery but unfortunately the pellets are still lodged in the posterior segment of your eyes. The injury may have been worsened as we were stopped by the Police at the hospital to operate immediately. They often arrest protestors from hospitals denying them medical assistance.

An entire generation is being quietly blinded and maimed. We have seen hundreds of these cases in the last five years and it is continuing without any hitch. I hope you get well soon and are able to stop these atrocities.”

Dr Sajjad Khanday, SMHS Ophthalmology Ward

“Dear Amit Ji,

I am sorry to hear about your injuries. You should’t have interfered in the business of the CRPF.

My son Gowhar Nazir also did the same mistake. He had stepped out of the house to get milk when he saw a disabled boy being harassed by the CRPF and tried to save him. Gowhar was unarmed but they shot him with that “non-lethal” gun. It still took his life. My mother died of shock when heard about Gowhar’s death.

Stay silent and stay safe. You still have the opportunity to enjoy your old age with your children and grandchildren.”

Nazir Ahmad Dar, Kashmir

“Dear Shahrukh

clip_21It is a tregedy what the Indian Army did to you. You were not even amongst those protesting. But that is what the Armed Forces Special Powers Act does., it gives them powers to shoot anyone they suspect with complete immunity.

I can empathise with your family. My brother Hamid was subjected to the same brutality. He was in school all day and then left for tui­tions. We heard that he had been injured by pellets. He is struggling with trauma and we are struggling with to explain to him why anyone would deserve this. Hope you can muster the courage to speak for Kashmiris when you are asked to play a role of an army officer next time.”

Junaid Nazir

 “Dear Saif

clip_22-2Heard you are also admitted in the same hospital. I can’t come to meet you as they just operated on my abdomen and my right eye is yet to be operated on. I saw your film Phantom. It showed Indian Army is against terrorism. Then why did they shoot me? I am not that tall or scary. I am only 11 and I was just standing outside my house. They walked up to me, stood close and shot me thrice in my right eye. If the Indian Army aren’t terrorists then why do I feel so scared of them.”

Umar Nazir, Kashmir

“Dear Hrithik bhai

clip_23Hope you are recovering well. I saw your Mission Kashmir and thought perhaps at least you in Bollywood are somewhat aware of the atrocities we Kashmiris suffer.

Unlike you I don’t have funds for treatment and our father left this world a few years ago. Around 40 pellets still remain in body which were lodged by what they describe as a “non-lethal” gun in May this year. I am 13 and wanted to grow up to help my brother run the house. Now they remain worried about my treatment. Perhaps if you had spoken about the brutalities we face we all may still be living a normal life.”

Imaad Ahmad, Kashmir

Red Lipstick: The Men In My Life

By Laxmi and Pooja Pande

clip_20-2Can a six-year-old understand abuse? Comprehend the viol­ence done to him? Can he ever really understand that he has been forced? What does it mean to be sexually abused at such a young age when you don’t even know what abuse means? A child does not have the vocabulary of victimisation handy and so he spends a large part of his life in denial of what happened to him, never completely understanding it. Not knowing where to start. You can’t speak about consent here; it is not the right word—what consent would a child have to give?

clip_25The first time I was sexually abused was in our hometown Gorakhpur, where I had gone with my family for a wedding. I was a six-year-old boy­—weak, ill and feminine in demeanour—and that made me vulnerable. He was my father’s elder brother’s son, 21 years old. A sickly child, whose parents were slogging to keep him alive and well day and night, was whom he penetrated. I fainted the first time. The pain was so int­ense I felt something had ripped apart inside me, something was broken that could never be fixed. He went on raping me through that wedding, and even brought in another cousin and some friends. There was constant pain—a burning I can never describe and can never ever forget. As they thrust inside me, they would whisper, “You shouldn’t tell anybody. You must promise.” See, because they were my own people, my family, I never thought they would do anything wrong to me. So I never saw it as something wrong. But it caused me so much pain and confusion, I couldn’t think straight. And because he was so close to us, my abuser was always in front of my eyes while I was growing up.

I never spoke to anyone about it. It was only much later in life, when I encountered sex and desire and understood what it was, that I realised what had happened to me then was the worst wrong a human being could do to another, to a child. Once I did though, I was uncontrollable. I thirsted for revenge and became a vengeful bitch, dev­oid of remorse, guilt, repentance and shame. I was like the unbridled Ganges roaring down from Mount Kailash, with no Shiva to stem my flow. When I rea­lised I was exploited as a child because of my femininity, I decided to use exactly that—my femininity—to wreak revenge. And did I wreak revenge! I satiated myself with it. I exploited man after man, in all awareness, with complete deliberation. I went through all the men in my family, one by one, replacing my frustration and confusion with blinding rage and pure revenge sex. I forced them into my bed and wielded my femininity as a weapon—I would make them so bloody paralysed that they would submit completely, losing all self-control, all sense of propriety or decorum. Their patriarchy crushed my femininity and now it was coming back to crush them, because these were all those ‘straight’ men with wives and children—bloody hypocrites. Indian men will actually f**k anything, but they are alw­ays in denial about it, because their masculinity would be questioned and patriarchy would suffer. I ­understood this about them ­because I was forced to understand it—and I exploited it to my advantage.

“Indian men will actually f**k anything, but they are always in denial about it.”

img_2577I am the epitome of sluthood—I can be the ultimate seductress and I can also suddenly become otherworldly, divine and naive. I’m like a serpent, slippery. It’s like I’m accessible, but I’m not available; it’s irresistible, and that’s what they all submitted to. It was empowering! I would tease them, make them want it, and then I would make it seem I never wanted it in the first place. Often I would just leave them in the middle of it all, with their throbbing erections aching for climax—the absolute humiliation for any man. I played my femininity so well that they got manipulated.

When so many people in the family were speaking against my decision to join the hijra clan, those who had slept with me kept their mouths shut. What could they say? I had shown them their place. Even if they tried, one look into my eyes would make them shut up. I could say to them, “You’re talking against me? The crease you’d left on my bedsheets is still there. The memory and mark of that love bite is still there.”

I had the most intimate encounters ­during my sister’s marriage. It was my pleasure, my bloody pleasure, not theirs to take at will. Whether they got pleasure or not was irrelevant. I was a lioness on a hunt. I didn’t care how I slayed and what I slayed. I had no regrets.

We all know that hijras become sex toys in a patriarchal society and, for a long time, I believed that too. I thought it might be a good way to be accepted in the mainstream. To be being a sex toy and play the victim at the same time simply did not work for me. When you know yourself so well, know what you’re capable of, and do what you’re doing with full awareness, you can’t play that game. It is an art. Also, people who have been abused very young always wear it on their sleeve, bear it like a cross—“Oh, I was abused.” Sure, what happened was inhuman, and it shouldn’t have. But we must talk more about the strength of overcoming it. I have been abused, discarded, treated horribly, yet I’m strong. I do talk about my abuse, but only as history. Yet there are so many people who talk about their abuse all the time, but when they reach a position of superiority and strength, they end up abusing others weaker than them—knowingly or, at times, unknowingly—but they never talk about it. But if you did it, you must talk about it. Anyway, I just can’t be a victim. I am a celebration, I feel, and that’s the narrative I choose for my story.

So many people talk about their abuse all the time, but when they reach a position of superiority and strength, they end up abusing others weaker than them.

The guy who abused me died of HIV, a painful, dreadful death; it was his karma. But when I grew up, I had even forced him to have sex with me. I just caught him and flung him on to my bed and then I walked out halfway, leaving him powerless. I made out with somebody else while he was watching—yes, I did that too. Sex ­became my personal power tool, just like, I would imagine, it was Cleopatra’s and Helen of Troy’s. It was like my cheer haran had already happened, but I created my own Mahabharata, I took my revenge. This Draupadi didn’t wait for Arjuna or Bheem to avenge her, so she could wash her hair in Dushasana’s blood and tie it up. She took matters in her own hands.

I never stopped to think if what I was doing was right or wrong. I took the ­decision that I thought was right then, and I went with it. It was a conscious ­decision. And even today when I look back, I don’t ­regret a single moment.

To see a hunk of a man helpless, with absolutely no control—to strip him naked, to order him to strip naked—is a powerful thing. I have never allowed a man in my bed with clothes on. You want to know something about men? Tell the man to strip naked, look him up and down, and then bed him. He will never raise his head in front of a woman who does that. Nudity is simply not normal for Indian men. They are not comfortable in their own skins, unused to seeing themselves naked. They would even keep their underwear on while taking baths—it’s in our culture. Even with their lovers and wives, they never strip totally naked before sex—that erotic sense is just not there. So if you ask them to do it, it makes them helpless.

This gave me power and an incredible attitude towards men and sex. When men show so much attitude about their penises, I always say, “Koi top toh nahi leke ghoom raha, na (It’s not like you’re walking around with a cannon in your pants). It’s one dick and two testicles. And it’s not going to be a bucketful of anything—it’s like one tablespoon of cum. You’ll squirt it on my body, and it’ll get recreated in you. So shut up.” When men would tease me about being a hijra, I would walk up to them and say, “I know your dick is no bigger than your nose. So shut up.” There was this man who was desperate to sleep with me—a very good-­looking man—but I didn’t want to. So I told him, “Have you seen the Mahalaxmi Race Course? My body is the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Tere jaise kitne ghode daude hain, aur daud ke mar chuke hain (Several horses like you have galloped across and died). What’s the big deal? Get lost.”

My abuse and its aftermath gave me this attitude, made me like this and talk like this. Yes, it came out of something that was not nice. My abusers introduced me to something that I should not have learnt then. And when I understood it and understood the pleasure of it, then who would fulfil my desires? It was their ­res­ponsibility. They were family, after all. And I have a family full of handsome hunks—so it was beautiful incest. Like King George V with all his wives and all that incest. Cousins, uncles, brother-in-law’s brothers—I spared none.

Transgenders in India

 “A transgender person is a divine soul. You cannot say if God is a man or woman; it’s the same with us. Though we are affined more to one gender than the other, we definitely have the characteristics of the other gender too. We are unique. We have the capacity to analyse both the physical and mental aspects of both men and women, which drives us to do things that both men and women are capable of.”

—Narthaki Nataraj, a classical dancer

608x325-1In May 2016, the Asian edition of Time featured a survivor in war-torn South Sudan on the cover. “I was the only one God left alive,” read the dark headline. But readers in the US received a peppier (yet equally political) offering, with colourful strips of toilet paper dangling down a holder: Battle of the Bathroom, it said. The eight-page story detailed why the fight for transgender rights had moved, in the land of the free at least, into the most int­imate of public spaces: the toilet.


Think about it, the washroom as a metaphor of change. And then, think about the number of times you have thought about how half-a-million people out of a billion-plus might be using it in schools, colleges, offices, hospitals, railway stations and cinema halls. In a nation where public toilets are a luxury even for men and especially for women, thinking about the needs of 0.04 per cent of the population might seem fuuristic, but as independent India turns platinum, now is a good time.

Reason #1: In 2014, the Supreme Court accorded the status of ‘third gender’ to transgender people, giving them the right to determine the gender they identify with.

Reason #2: Since 2015, at least three MPs of three regional parties—DMK, TMC and BJD—have moved private members’ bills in Parliament for their welfare.

Reason #3: Last month, the Union cabinet moved a legislation to protect the rights of transgenders, putting in motion legal provisions for stringent action for offe­nces against them.

clip_17Simply put, these three steps mean one thing: that there are others amidst us, and we better recognize them and their rights. And the world’s largest democracy is urging you to make that mental leap and think of a tiny minority—otherwise the butt of jokes in films, catcalls in trains and hushed whi­spers on streets—as normal citizens. We can no longer pretend that the numerous freedoms we enjoy are exclusive to certain gender identities. As Edward Said wrote in a different context in Identity, Authority, And Freedom: “Do we use the freedom we have fought for merely to replicate the mind-forged manacles that once enslaved us, and having put them on do we proceed to apply them to others less fortunate…?”

How many times do we think how half-a-million trans people would use the public toilet?

clip_18Imagine waking up one morning and finding yourself with the genitalia of the opposite sex. No, this is not a plot from Gogol or Kafka. It’s the waking nightmare that torments transgender people. And it’s akin to a tumour that insidiously gnaws at their very existence. “That’s how I felt,” says Living Smile Vidya, theatre artist and writer from Chennai. Vidya, who penned an autobiography, I am Vidya, says she was trapped in a male body. “It was horrible and disgusting. I just wanted to remove my gen­­italia every morning. I wanted to chop it off. In 2005, when sex reassignment surgery was at a nascent stage in India, I got myself operated on by a doctor in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. It was not a skilful operation, but it felt good to change to a woman.”

The great leap across genders or transitioning from one sex to another is often described as punarjanma or ‘rebirth’ by transgenders. Even today, with the best of sex reassignment surgeries (SRS) available (which most Indian trans people cannot afford), the metamorphosis of sex change is violently traumatic: for some, the experience is death-like, often accompanied by post-surgery depression. But it’s the price transgenders are willing to pay to be free from a gender identity assigned to them at birth, based on their external genital org­ans. For a transgender, the assigned gender identity is at variance with their mental and emotional state. Despite the trauma, there seems to be a high degree of yearning to break free from the shackles of a body that imprisons them. Even those who self-identify as transgender without undergoing surgery express unalloyed joy the moment they are able to do so freely and without social repression.

img_4249In 1930, Andreas Sparre, a painter, transitioned to Lili Elbe in Europe. Though it was among the first celebra­ted transitions, Lili died a year later of complications from a uterus transplant. Niels Hoyer’s book, Man into Woman, based on Andreas’s notes, describes the post-surgery trauma: “When Andreas woke up again, in violent pain, it was alm­ost noon. He opened his eyes with a shriek…. It seemed to him he was crying out for a long time….” The Oscar-winning film The Danish Girl (2015) is based on Man into Woman.

Much like Andreas, many transgenders describe the pain of emasculation as unbearable. Moreover, they are confined to bed for many months to recuperate. Says Akkai Padmashali, 33, Bangalore-based trans activist, who comes from a middle-class family, “The entire central part of my body was hurting for three months after my SRS. That is the trouble I have taken to transition.”

For thousands like Vidya and Akkai, who dare a body leap for a sex change, life is tougher after transition. The transgender community often advises youngsters keen on a sex change to desist from emasculation/SRS because survival as a transgender is tough in India. For every trans person who has excelled in their field, there are thousands out begging or walking the streets, doing sex work. The Indian state has done little to bring them into the mainstream, or to ensure them a dignified life. Once they transition, they find there is no family support, no proper healthcare, no employment, no citizenship rights. Several legislations can criminalise them, but there’s none to protect them. They constantly have to encounter police atrocities.

The abuse begins at home. The family, unable to accept the effeminate male child or the masculine female one, tends to suppress them or abuse them for their ‘behaviour’, scarcely trying to und­erstand them. Transgender children rarely complete their studies because of sexual abuse and harassment in schools and colleges. From there, in public spaces, they have to endure police atrocities on a daily basis. Unable to bear this, transgenders usually run away and join the hijra community, where they are confined to begging and sex work.

clip_20-2In states like Kerala, discrimination against transgenders has been so high that most prefer to migrate to neighbouring states. Sheethal Shyam, 33, Kerala state-level secretary, Sexual Minority Forum, says, “The awareness is very low here, so is visibility and there has been little gender or sexuality discussion in the public arena. Trans­ge­nders have been looked down upon and little has been done to treat us with dignity and equality.” In November 2015, Kerala passed the State Policy for Transgenders in Kerala. Though it has emboldened more to come out as transgenders, police and people need to be sensitised. In July, six transgenders who had gone to lodge a complaint at the police station and five trans people who accompanied them were all locked up. Later that same evening, when two trans women, Poorna and Ayesha, went out for dinner, they were accosted by the police. They were asked why they were dressed as females if they had a penis. “They explained that they had had their SRS, but the policemen beat, poked and prodded them. Then, the 10 policemen stripped them and checked their gender. What right do the police have to check the gender of a person?” asks Shyam. In contrast, Tamil Nadu, which set up a Transgender Welfare Board in 2008, has been working toward their upliftment. Their government hospitals offer free SRS surgeries and many welfare schemes have been initiated for the community.

Even with good SRS, the metamorphosis of sex change is very traumatic.

References to trans people in the Maha­bharata and Ramayana is testimony to a traditional space for the community in Ind­­ian society. Legend has it that when Lord Rama was exiled, the people of Ayodhya followed him into the for­est. Telling the ‘men and women’ of Ayodhya to turn back, Rama continues on  his way. When he returned after his exile, Rama finds the hijras, not ‘men or women’, still rooted to the spot. Impressed with their devotion, Rama granted them the power to bless people during auspicious ceremonies. This is the so-called origin of the ‘badhai’ tradition—dancing, singing and blessing at weddings and child-birth—of hijras in the north. The Aravanis of Tamil Nadu draw their raison d’etre from the legend of Aravan, the son of Arjun. Ironically, trans people are themselves cursed—they live life on the margins and eke out a living by begging or sex work. Says Sumathi N., a Bangalore-based human rights activist with the Alternative Law Forum, “This cultural space they occupy is a rejection space and not part of the society. Based on blind beliefs, hijras come and bless people and leave. Likewise, Shiv Shakthis and Jog­appas are some other communities who are given the cultural/ religious sanction to live in a particular manner. This traditional space is occupied by trans women—or men who identify as women. There is no tradition with cultural sanction for trans men, so there is no visibility for trans men.”

Social exclusion of transgenders is bolstered by religion. The Book of Genesis in the Bible says how God made ‘man’ and ‘woman’, thus excluding every other dive­rse gender identity. And in the New Test­ament, there is  mention of a high-ranking Ethiopian, a eunuch, who converts to Chr­istianity. Ironically, Christian preachers use this biblical episode to try and include the transgender into the Christian fold. Though they mean well, the priests seem to be insensitive to the community’s feelings.  For transgenders, by the way, the word ‘eun­­uch’ is der­ogatory. “Eunuch is a term for a person who is forced to castrate, while a transgender person changes his/her sex of his own volition,” says Sumathi.

‘Self-definition’, job reservations are two vital parts absent in the new bill.

Though there are references to hijra, eunuchs and diverse gender variations in world literature, language itself has played a role in excluding identities that don’t fit the binary. The pronouns are a clear indication: there is no pronoun for trans people. Noam Chomsky, linguistic scientist and philosopher, says, “The organic world is based on two sexes. Languages naturally follow suit.” So, what can be done to grammar to include transgender persons?  “These are our decisions as to how to use language. The word ‘gay’ for homosexual is a recent innovation, fulfilling a felt need. There can be others, at will,” says Chomsky. Of course, there are localised coinages of pronouns and honorifics yet to gain universal acceptance. In 2015, for instance, the honorific ‘Mx’ gained currency for non-binary gender in official documents in the UK and will be used alongside Ms, Mrs and Miss. First int­roduced in the 1970s for gender-neutral persons, the honorific Mx is likely to be added to the Oxford English Dictionary in its next edition. Again, Ze/Hir are gender-neutral pronouns being used in some states in the US and there are laws in place for the mandatory use of these pronouns. Intentional omission by employers and landowners can attract fines.

Though transgender women or hijras were afforded a small cultural space on the margins, they did not enjoy equal rights with other citizens under the Indian legal system. For almost a century-and-a-half, they were looked at askance by law for not fitting into the gender binary. Under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, police could mon­itor transgenders’ movement; they could be arrested without a warrant and imp­­risoned for up to two years. This law was repealed only in 1949. Strangely, the Hyd­erabad Eunuch Act and section 36A of the 2012 Karnataka Police Act gives the pol­ice the power to regulate ‘eunuchs’. Says Gow­thaman Ranganathan, a law student, “Sec­tion 36A is drawn totally from the now-­­repealed Criminal Tribes Act, 1871. And it was passed in the Karnataka Leg­islative Ass­­embly without discussion. The Kar­na­taka High Court has ordered the del­­etion of the word eunuch from the law, which is a cosmetic change. The section needs to be repealed. It violates constitutional provisions. Under this section, police maintain a registry of transgender persons and they can be picked up. In Nov­ember 2014, 167 transgender persons, in gross vio­lation of human rights, were arrested and kept in the beggars’ colony. The police was rounding up anyone who was a hijra.”

With a legislation that criminalised hijras in place for over a century, the modern history of transgenders in India is a history of discrimination. It was in the I990s, with awareness necessitated by the HIV-AIDS scare and more funding, that the transgender community finally became part of the discourse as a high-risk group. “In the US, the LGBT mov­­ement was a political movement aga­inst police excesses, whereas in India, what is celebrated as the urban LGBTQ movement is the product of the HIV-AIDS fun­ding and the rise of the NGOs,” says Gee Imaan Semmalar, trans activist. Sunil Mohan, independent res­earcher for the Alternative Law Forum, says that words like MSM (men having sex with men), male-born female etc arise out of the funding language. “The outreach of the NGOs and the HIV-AIDS funding placed the transgender community in the high-risk category. Slowly, the transgender movement demanding for rights, employment, medical care began to grow.”

Though India is a signatory to the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2006 adoption of Yogyakarta Principles that affirms the enjoyment of human rights irrespective of sexual orientations and gender identities, technicalities in the Indian legal system means courts can interpret the laws in their jurisdiction. The IPC, too, is third gender-blind and works exclusively on the gender bin­ary. Often, it becomes a loophole for crimes against the transgender community. Again, the male-female duality is a basic assumption for laws relating to marriage, adoption, inheritance, succession, taxation and welfare legislations.

In a landmark judgement, on April 15, 2014, in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, the Supreme Court recognised transgender people and granted them the right to self-identify their gender. The court ruled that they be entitled to pro­portional access and representation in education and jobs. Interestingly, legal counsels for NALSA, while arguing the case, cleverly pointed out that in Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the gender-neutral words ‘citizens’ or ‘persons’ were used so that it doesn’t exclude hijras/transgenders from their ambit. And it was under the freedom of expression that the court legitimised the expression of gender identities without having to do a surgery. The court ruled that ‘gender identity’ is integral to the dignity of an individual and is at the core of ‘personal autonomy’ and ‘self-determination’—saying, therefore, that hijras/eunuchs have to be considered the Third Gender, over and above binary genders under our Constitution and laws.

However, the Transgender Person (Pro­tection of Rights) Bill, 2016, which was int­roduced in the Lok Sabha rec­ently, makes no mention of self-defining of gender ide­ntity—a huge setback for the transgender community. “Our struggle must go on,” says Uma, director of Jeeva, Bangalore. “These bills, like the recent bill and the Transgender Persons (Welfare) Bill, 2015, will only dilute the NALSA judgement,” says Ranganathan.

On the one hand, a bill is introduced in Parliament to protect the transgender, yet funding for combating HIV-AIDS has been cut by 20 per cent. Says Rudrani Chettri, director of Mitr Trust, an NGO in New Delhi, “Our organisation is government-funded and in 2015-16 we have been severely affected by the drastic cut in the flow of funds. We have been unable to pay salaries. Because of discrimination faced in the hospitals, usually transgenders come to us but now they are expected to access public health services. The government should first sensitise the doctors and staff before directing the transgender persons there. The medical fraternity does not know how to treat transgenders.”

The NALSA judgement was hailed as one of the most sensitive judgements by the transgender community. But by upholding Section 377A of the Indian Penal Code, and by striking down the Delhi High Court judgement that decriminalised the section relating to gays, the SC has taken a regressive position that has grievously affected transgenders too. In a country where SRS is often botched up, many transgenders do not have properly reconstructed genitalia in place. So they are targeted as a group that resorts to ‘unnatural sex’, which inc­ludes oral and anal sex. Says Padmashali, “We have a beautiful judgement in the NALSA case but here it has been regressive. It curtails my right to privacy, right to dignity and the court is allowing the state to step into my bedroom. We still have hope that it will consider the curative pet­itions and I have trust in the Supreme Court that it will correct the error.”

Paramount for trans persons is the right to express their gender and disown one that is imposed on them, as so rightly pointed out in the NALSA judgement. Jaya, 37, general manager of the NGO Sahodaran, sits on the ground while talking to Outlook. “I am a self-identified kothi (a word denoting an effeminate male),” she says. “I cross-dress but have not had a surgery to transition. I may or may not transition. The NALSA judgement has given me the freedom to self-express my gender identity.”

That freedom to self-express took a long time coming; it is now up to the nation to give transgenders—so abused and long manacled to society’s intransigence—the space and freedom to express themselves. The bill in Parliament is certainly a step towards that. But real change in society can take place only when ‘normal’ people stop looking at transgender persons as freaks, and so relegate them to the fringes, shunned and abused. It’s only when others crack the carapace of prejudice and accept transgenders as fellow human beings that true liberation can come.

clip_20-2“We can decide on how to use languages. The word ‘gay’ for homosexual is a recent invention. There can easily be others, at will .”
Noam Chomsky, Linguist, intellectual


Transgender It is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression, and behaviour are different from those associated with their “assigned” sex at birth

Transsexual People who have gone through permanent “transition”, using hormones or surgery.

Transgender Man A trans individual, assigned female at birth, but lives as a man

Transgender Woman A trans person, assigned male at birth, but transitions to female

Cross-dresser Seen as a form of gender expression, cross-dresser is a term for those who dress in clothes associated with the opposite sex

Transvestite term for cross-dressers, who may or may not take up cross-dressing permanently

Eunuch Referred to as the ‘third gender’, eunuchs are castrated men who challenge sexual orientation. They have physiologically feminine gender identity and often dress in women’s clothing.

Challenging Israel’s Violations of International Law Using the Alien Tort Statute

clip_40A few lawyers in America are continuing with their long-standing work in support of Palestinian human rights and challenging Israeli violations of international law. In particular, they have used the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows foreign victims of serious international human rights violations to sue the perpetrators in U.S. courts, to seek accountability for Israeli government violations of international law, as well as state tort law.

In 1992, a case was filed titled Abu-Zeineh v. Federal Laboratories, Inc., on behalf of family members of nine Palestinians killed from exposure to tear gas used by the Israeli military in the Occupied Palestinian Territory during the first Intifada, against the Pennsylvania company that manufactured the chemical.

In Belhas v. Ya’alon, they sued the Israeli Army general responsible for the bombing of a UN compound in Qana where civilians had taken refuge during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; the bombing killed over 100 people, and injured many more.

In Matar v. Dichter, they sued the head of the Israeli Security Agency for his direct involvement in dropping a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in a densely populated Gaza neighborhood in the middle of the night, which killed eight children and seven adults, and injured over 150 other people in 2002.

Perhaps best known is the case on behalf of the parents of American peace activist Rachel Corrie and four Palestinian families whose relatives were killed or injured when Caterpillar bulldozers demolished their homes.  The case was brought Corrie v. Caterpillar because the company had long known that its 60-ton armor-plated bulldozers provided to the Israeli military were used to commit human rights abuses. CCR partnered with PCHR’s Raji Sourani on Abu-Zeineh, Matar and Caterpillar.


Some Girls Looking for Strong Boys

Clip_35Pakistan’s oldest red light district was for centuries a hub of traditional erotic dancers, musicians and prostitutes ─ Pigalle with a Mughal twist, deep in the heart of the vibrant city.

But as an e-commerce boom revolutionises how Pakistanis conduct the world’s oldest profession, locals say the historic Heera Mandi district is under threat.

Balconies where beautiful women once stood are now empty, while rust eats away at the locked doors of vacant rooms. The only stubborn hold-outs are shops selling instruments that once facilitated the aperitifs of music and dance.

Men now can book a rendezvous online through escort websites or even directly with women over social media, instead of searching out streetside solicitation.

With location rendered meaningless, prostitutes like Reema Kanwal ─ who says the business “runs in my blood” ─ have abandoned Heera Mandi.

Clip_27The district, whose name translates as “Diamond Market”, is close to the echoing, centuries-old Badshahi Mosque.

During the Mughal era rule in the 15th and 16th centuries, Heera Mandi was a centre for mujra, traditional singing and dancing performed for the elites.

The wealthy even sent their sons to the salons of tawaifs, high-class courtesans that have been likened to Japanese geishas, to study etiquette.

Later, when the British came, distinctions between courtesan or mujra dancer and prostitute were blurred.

Dance and sex became intertwined, and Heera Mandi began its long slide into sordidness ─ but even so, Reema remembers “glorious” days.

Reema’s mother and grandmother were also prostitutes, making her part ofHeera Mandi’s generations of women who danced and pleased men in the market.

“People used to respect the prostitutes of Heera Mandi, we were called artists,” she says ─ but all has changed over the last decade.”

“Now we don’t have any honour.”

She blames the loss on a rush of girls without her family background taking up the profession who have not been taught “how to treat people” the way she has.

Diamonds in the rough

Clip_26Such girls, she says, need nothing to market themselves but a mobile phone, with which they can advertise on Facebook or Locanto, some offering services over Skype for as little as Rs300.

Dozens of escort services with online bookings claim to serve thousands of clients in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad ─ some even in Dubai and Singapore.

In a Muslim country where prostitution is banned and sex outside marriage is criminalised, one website says it caters to roughly 50,000 customers.

With the old traditions falling by the wayside, girls also no longer need an entourage of musicians and teachers, say the owners of the music shops that are the final remnants of old Heera Mandi.

The intricate mujra dancing that was such a foundation of the red light district required years of teaching and live musicians. Now girls learn easy but provocative dance moves via YouTube.

“They take a USB or sometimes they don’t even need that, they have songs in their cellphones, they plug a cable and play the music,” laments Soan Ali, one of the music shop owners.

Like Reema, Ali’s family has also been in Heera Mandi for generations, and he proudly recalled his father’s “hospitality” as he attempted to lure clients for his mother.

He takes a deep breath. “We are having a lot of difficulties,” he admits.

“Whoever is in this field is going through hard days.”

‘Heera Mandi is no more’

Clip_252For those who have migrated beyond Heera Mandi, however, the future is bright.

Mehak, who declined to give her full name, is a cosmetic surgeon by profession, a feminist by ideology, and by night one of Pakistan’s most elite madams.

Seven sleek Persian cats prowl among the expensive wooden furniture of her home, which doubles as a brothel for upper-class Pakistanis in a wealthy residential neighbourhood of Lahore.

Mehak, who is in her mid-50s, says she recruits most of her girls through elite parties ─ but adds “this online thing has really changed the business”.

“A girl no longer needs a pimp to market her, she has Facebook, Twitter,” she says.

Heera Mandi is no more… even if a girl is from Heera Mandi she would never reveal it because the client would never risk sexually transmitted diseases and the bad image associated,” she added.

Outside of the Diamond Market, she says, business is good.

“Medical students and MBAs have the highest rates, they get a hundred thousand (rupees) for one night,” she says.

Clip_19Now she plans to expand and offer male prostitutes.

“Girls from the elite class come to me and beg for boys,” she says.

“They say they are ready to pay, but they need strong boys.”