27 November 2006

Gali No. 2, Street Despair

Born to a prostitute, Shankar was soliciting men at 11. It was the prelude to a eunuch’s life as Neelam.

"It is dusk and the prostitutes of Kamatipura are readying to ensnare their prey. Flanking their clearly demarcated territory are claustrophobic lanes of two-storied sweatshops with glassy-eyed men sewing feverishly by the light of kerosene lamps. In one street of lust, 10 women listlessly dance the dandiya. In a corner, two boys are entwined to the rhythm of a Bollywood song. It is Navratri, but Kamatipura remains a nightmare tableau of desperation.

Gali No. 2 is where the eunuchs reside. In front of their two-storied home a group of tall, bejewelled beauties cluster. It is the 48th birthday of their Guruji, Zeenat, and promises to be a rare evening of celebration. Several policemen stand by, hands held out for a donation. The air is raw with anger. The day before, the police had arrested Nandini and thrashed her with a stick until she paid them Rs 1,200. But if you are a friend you will be cosseted, promised a thick slice of cake and offered a glass of cold water in a silver tumbler.

The most voluble of the eunuchs is Neelam. Her face has been pancaked flawlessly allowing no hint of stubble. Velvety false eyelashes afford her face a hint of luxury. Her thick eyebrows are arched and coloured, her voluptuous lips painted silver. Every part of her visible body is decorated with care, as though it were a shrine. A faux gold and diamond mang ka tikka crowns a chunky necklace, chandelier earrings and bangles. Her cleavage is sprinkled with silver glitter, but her nails are cracked and tobacco-stained. When Neelam isn’t soliciting customers, she helps cook and clean for her community home. Taking out a Rs 1 coin from her choli she hands it to a servant boy who returns with a packet of Goa gutka. Then, on her doorstep, she unravels her life.

Neelam was born Shankar, in Kamatipura’s Gali No. 1, the street of prostitutes, to a prostitute and her husband, both from Andhra Pradesh. His father was jobless and cruel; he beat his wife daily. Shankar was sodomised twice. At 10, on the school terrace and at 11, at knifepoint near a cinema. “Phir mujhe mazaa laga. Maine socha ki mein kuch kama sakoon,” says Neelam, in her thick voice. She speaks softly. She doesn’t want her past to become fodder for local gossip. “Mera dost mujhe bolta, chal na mere saath tujhe tees rupiya doonga.” (I began to enjoy it and thought, why not make some money? A friend would say, come with me for Rs 30, and I would agree). “In those days for Rs 1 you could buy 10 chocolates. Imagine how many I could buy with Rs 30.” At 11, Shankar was soliciting outside theatres. It was soon known than he enjoyed the company of men. One day, a group of eunuchs accosted him. “You enjoy sex with men. Join us.” That year, Shankar’s mother immolated herself in her third attempt. She was HIV positive, and Shankar, who had distanced himself from his family after joining the eunuchs, hadn’t spoken to her for months.

Shankar moved from Gali No. 1 to Gali No. 2. He underwent rites of passage. Allegiance to Zeenat, who became his mentor. Neelam says, “Guruji meri maa samaan hain. Woh mujhe samjhati hai, ‘beta customer ko condom pehna. Tere liye mein hi hoon’.” (She is like my mother and tells me to make the customer wear a condom. She tells me only she is there for me.) Zeenat taught Shankar the secret language of the eunuchs and helped him bear the pain of castration so he could start the process of becoming a she. For Rs 30,000 a dai sliced off Shankar’s penis with a knife, sans anesthesia. For 40 days, bandages soaked in hot oil and warm water were alternated on the wound. He was fed fish and meat to expunge impurities from his body.

Becoming Neelam brought security, but also abasement. She felt a sense of communion, and was comforted. She also knows that however corrupted her life before, as a eunuch she is at the bottom of the food chain. When policemen want a bit of fun, when they want to vent their frustration with a beating, or line their pockets, they head to Gulli No 2. “Even prostitutes have a voice”, says Neelam, sadly. “We have nothing. We may as well be dead.” She knows some people regard her in shades of black or white. Either a beggar or a raucous carouser who will malevolently threaten to ruin a wedding unless bribed handsomely. Either way, a mutation of a human being the public would rather avert its eyes from.

Life wasn’t always this desperate. For three years before the ban on dance bars on August 14, Neelam was a dancer. For two days a week eunuchs were given free rein in the city’s dance bars including the famous Topaz on Grant Road. Their appearance was said to bring luck. Neelam often earned Rs 2,000 a night. She felt “sexy, sexy” and says her beauty made an American photographer shoot him in the nude. “Bikul model jaise thi,” she reminisces melancholically. (I was just like a model.) The ban destroyed the one thing that brought her pleasure and pride. It also made prostitution her only source of income. She charges Rs 50 for sex. Half of her day’s earnings go to Guruji, a further Rs 20 is given to Guruji as “rent” for the space taken in the house when with a customer. She spends Rs 100 on Goa gutka daily and is trying to pay off a loan of Rs 50,000 by saving Rs 300 a day. The rest is spent on clothes from Chor Bazaar, and on gold for her sister who lives and studies in a college in Andheri. Neelam hasn’t visited her for four years, his “shame” at what he has become, he says, will not permit him.

Now Neelam lives with 10 other eunuchs in a 7-room building, which includes bathrooms and a kitchen. They are given meals of egg curry and tomato chutney twice daily at 2 p.m. and midnight. On the weekends, they feast on mutton ghosht and chicken. For breakfast, the eunuchs spend their own money on tea and bun-muska from a restaurant. Like her meals, everything in Neelam’s life is a choreographed ritual. She is expected to know her space, to occupy just that and no more. But no one can steal her memories. She craves for her sister and cries for her mother. Then she wipes away the tears and gets down to business.

The police have left, and the chief guest has arrived: the eunuch Lakshmi is revered by this group as their mother figure. When she enters, shimmying out of a red Maruti van, all talk ceases. The eunuchs alternate between standing to attention, and fawning over this six-foot tall vision in white, accessorised with gold, her curls a halo above her head. Lakshmi doles out hugs and kisses. Her effortless sensuality will disconcert the most determinedly heterosexual man.

Lakshmi sashays to the second floor and like lambs, all follow. A 10 feet by 10 feet room with green walls is decorated with silver and purple streamers. Everyone squats trying to be as close as possible to Lakshmi. Her power is an irresistible magnetic field. The air is thick with cigarette smoke and the music of her throaty laugh and American twang. She screams in English: “You hijdas are so dramatic! Just get the cake yaar and lets start the party!” Zeenat, dressed in what seems to be a wedding sari, is coy but glowing. She stands quietly as a mammoth pink cake with red and yellow stripes is placed before her. The soft light from two candles brings a smile to her face. Zeenat blows out the candles and we sing Happy Birthday. Lakshmi carves a piece of cake and smashes it into Zeenat’s face to raucous laughter. Someone switches on the music and a mujra wafts across the room, through the window and down the street. Potential customers strolling past listen, captivated.

An elderly eunuch with flowers in her hair hands out the cake. Everyone digs in except Lakshmi. She is dancing with abandon. A young woman, hair down to her waist, joins Lakshmi. Someone points, “She once earned Rs 16,000 in a bar in one week.” Lakshmi graciously says acknowledges that there is no space for two divas on the floor. “I’m a budhi next to her,” she smiles.

In half an hour, the cake is consumed, the party over. We troop down. The eunuchs gossip in the glow of a lone streetlight. In this filthy street, Neelam, dressed like a bride, plies her trade each day. She says she’s afraid she is HIV positive. She’s been tested four times, not once returning for the results. “I’m happy,” she says. But the smile doesn’t reach her eyes. She listens for the footfall of lonely men searching for company. She sighs: “Sometimes, it’s better not to know the truth.”

by Sonia Faleiro in Tehelka, October 22 2005.

Photo credits, Sanjiv Valsan.

20 November 2006

20th Nov - 8th Transgender Day of Remembrance

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgendered — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.

We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.


[No Photo]Rani
Location: Calcutta, India
Cause of death: Blunt force trauma
Date of death: November 20, 2005
Rani, a young hijra from north Calcutta, had been left to live separate from her family, and usually slept on the pavement. Her killers found her asleep, dropped a heavy stone on her head, and left her to die. She died from injuries from this blow.

[No Photo]Vanessa Facen
Location: San Diego, California, U.S.A.
Date of death: November 21, 2005
Cause of death: Stopped breathing during a melee with sheriff’s deputies
Facen, 35, was in the custody of San Diego police after being found naked and bleeding inside her neighbor’s home on November 17th. While it is unclear as to why Facen became violent while in police custody, signs indicate that it was her treatment by officers — who insisted on treating her as male while in custody — that contributed to her actions.

[No Photo]Unknown person wearing womens’ clothing
Location: Northridge, California, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Beat to death with a garden hoe by John Freeman
Date of death: November 27, 2005
The victim, 31, was at Freeman’s house when neighbors reported hearing a heated argument. She was allegedly attacked by John Freeman, who struck her with his fists, feet, and a hoe. Freeman had a casual relationship with the victim prior to the murder.

[No Photo]Simone Walton
Location: Oak Cliff, Texas, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Shot to death
Date of death: December 4, 2005
Walton, a forty year old, died shortly after midnight in the 3200 block of Linfield Road in east Oak Cliff.

[No Photo]Roberta Oliveira
Location: Milan, Italy
Cause of death: Stuck by a car
Date of death: December 8, 2005
Oliveira was a twenty eight year old Brazilian transgender woman living in Italy. She was deliberately struck by a vehicle.

[No Photo]Paulina (Juan Pablo MŽndez Cartagena)
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Cause of death: Shot to death
Date of death: December 18, 2005
Paulina worked for Integral Sexuality AIDS Support Organisation (OASIS). She was in Guatemala city with a second transwoman when four men on motorbikes, wearing police uniforms, ordered them to stop — then shot both of them. Paulina was shot twice in the head, and died minutes later. Sulma, the other victim, survived three gunshot wounds.

[No Photo]Alexis (Brandon) L. King
Location: Nicetown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Shot to death
Date of death: February 3, 2006
King, 21, was shot to death in the pre-dawn hours of February 2nd by Terron Oates who was found by police at the scene. Oates confessed to the murder.

[No Photo]Tiffany Berry
Location: Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Shot 3 times
Date of death: February 9, 2006
Twenty one year old Tiffany Berry, identified as a pre-operative transsexual, was shot and killed at the Camelot Manor Apartments in South Memphis. While investigators have said this was a robbery homicide, Berry’s purse was wound, intact, with her body. Police claim that Berry’s transgender status had nothing at all to do with the murder, while others outside of law enforcement disagree. Anyone with information in this case is asked to call Memphis Police Homicide at 545-5300.

[No Photo]Yardena Marsh
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel
Cause of death: Shot to death
Date of death: February 15, 2006
Yardena Marsh, the first known Israeli to have genital reassignment surgery, was found dead by her sister in Marsh’s Tel Aviv apartment. Her confessed killer, Ze’ev Bisso, initially claimed that his gun had accidently fired and struck marsh.

[No Photo]Gisberta Salce Junior
Location: Porto, Portugal
Cause of death: Beaten and stoned to death
Date of Death: February 22, 2006
Gisberta was a homeless transgender woman who had been living in a shelter for many months. Her death was a violent one, lasting for several days as she was repeatedly beaten, sodomized with sticks, burned, kicked, stabbed, and stoned by a group of up to fourteen teenagers. After she expired, they dumped her into a ditch.

[No Photo]Melissa “Mo” Green
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Shot to death
Date of death: March 21, 2006
Twenty-two year old Melissa Green was shot from behind, by a single bullet, in what seems like a planned killing. She bled to death from her injuries before paramedics arrived on scene. Anyone with information in this case is asked to call Phoenix police at (602) 262-6141, or Silent Witness at 1-800-343-TIPS. There is a $2,000 reward being offered for information leading to an arrest of indictment of the murderer.

[No Photo]Rupesh Mandal
Location: Mahotari district, Nepal
Cause of Death: Suffocated
Date of death: March 30, 2006
Rupesh was a thirteen year old transgender girl living in the Mahotari district of Nepal. Rupesh’s father, Tapeshore Mandal, had banished her after discovering that she was going to meetings of the Blue Diamond Society, the only organization in Nepal for sexual minorities. While she did rejoin the family after promising to stop going to the BDS, her father continued to abuse and neglect her, and said that he would kill her unless she stopped presenting herself as female. Her mother found her body. The father claimed that she had poisoned herself, but a most-mortem indicated that she died of suffocation, not poisoning.

[No Photo]Alfred Dibble
Location: Stockton, California, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Beaten to death
Date of death: May 20, 2006
Dibble was a 34 year old nurse. was severely beaten and left to die on the corner of Miner Avenue and Sierra Nevada Street in Stockton, California. Dibble died from injuries sustained in the beating while at a stockton hospital. Anyone with information in this case is asked to call either Detective Robert MacDonald or Detective Ed Rodriguez of the Stockton Police Department at (209) 937-8323

[No Photo]Sudha, aka Lakshmi
Location: Tiruchy, India
Cause of death: Throat slit; also multiple stab wounds to the genitals
Date of death: May 26, 2006
Sudha was a transgender sex worker in India. She was picked up at the Central Bus Stand on May 25, and her and a male, likely her murderer, checked in at a private lodge. She was found there, in a pool of blood, after her throat was slit, and after several cuts to the genitals. Police suspect that Pandian of Taranallur was her killer.

[No Photo]Barbara (Geovanny) Calderon
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Cause of death: Drive-by shooting
Date of death: June 10, 2006
Calderon, a Honduran, was murdered in a drive-by shooting attack, part of a string of violent acts against sex-workers and transgender people in Guatemala. Two other transgender women, and one gay male, were injured in the attack.

[No Photo]Lupita (Juan Carlos Charria)
Location: Gardolo-Trento, Italy
Cause of death: Stabbed multiple times, allegedly by Engjell Ndreca
Date of death: July 29, 2006
Lupita, a twenty nine year old Colombian, was a sex worker in Italy. A client of her’s, Engjell Ndreca, is believed to have stabbed her five times. When captured by police, he nitially claimed Lupita was his “boyfriend” and that she was HIV-positive, but several contradictions have appeared within his story.

[No Photo]Lezlie Anne Field
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Cause of death: Multiple gunshot wounds
Date of death: August 2, 2006
Field, a thirty one yer old transsexual American living and working in Thailand, was initially believed by police to have committed suicied in the apartment she shared with a Thai friend. The suicide note left with her appeared to be a forgery, and was not written by Field.

[No Photo]Mikey Vallejo-Seiber
Location: Riverside, California, U.S.A.
Cause of death: Internal injuries, allegedly by Alex Mendoza
Date of death: August 15, 2006
Vallejo-Seiber was a three year old who was repeatedly called a “sissy” by his father, Alex Mendoza. Mendoza also often slapped his son in an effort to “toughen him up,” and urged him to beat up on Vallejo-Seiber’s Elmo doll. Mikey Vallejo-Seiber died in a local hospital from internal injuries sustained from being kicked, punched, and dropped on his head. He was in Mendoza’s care at the time. His mother Pamela Seiber, pleaded guilty to child endangerment and was sentences to six years in prison.ÊMendoza has entered a plea of not guilty.

[No Photo]Edgar Cano Camacho
Location: Milan, Italy
Cause of death: Stabbed multiple times
Date of death: October 19, 2006
Camacho was a forty one year old Peruvian living in Italy. She died in her home after being repeatedly stabbed in the face.

10 November 2006

India eunuchs turn tax collectors

See the tax-collecting eunuchs

Tax authorities in one Indian state are attempting to persuade debtors to paying their bills - by serenading them with a delegation of singing eunuchs.

Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers.

Often unable to gain regular employment, the eunuchs have become successful at persuading people to part with their cash.

The eunuchs will get a commission of 4% of any taxes collected.

In Bihar's capital, Patna, officials felt deploying the eunuchs was the only way to prompt people to pay up.

We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy
Bharat Sharma
Patna official

"We are collecting taxes for the municipal corporation, collecting money from those who have not paid their taxes for years," said Saira, one of the eunuchs on the streets of Patna.

"Tax payment is necessary. When the corporation won't have any money how will they look after the people?"

Accompanied by police officers, the eunuchs approached shopkeepers and large defaulters on their first foray into tax collection.

"Pay the tax, pay the Patna Municipal Corporation tax," the eunuchs sang as they approached Ram Sagar Singh, who owed 100,000 rupees (£1,180), the AFP news agency reported.

Mortified by the commotion, Mr Singh reportedly agreed to pay up within a week.

The eunuchs collected about 400,000 rupees on their first day of work, authorities said, sharing 16,000 rupees (£188) amongst themselves.

Bharat Sharma, a revenue officer, told the Associated Press agency he was pleased with the eunuchs' work.

"We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy," he said.

source BBC

06 November 2006

Pakistan's ground-breaking transvestite

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Karachi

Nawazish Ali has proved to be universally popular

"Darling, you are sooo naughty," purrs an elegant sari-clad woman glowing out of primetime television.

Going by the name of Begum (Lady) Nawazish Ali, she hosts an eponymous talk show that has taken Pakistan by storm.

Flirting and skirting her way through politics, society gossip and plain old sexual chemistry, Begum has become the most popular icon to inundate Pakistani fantasy in a while.

How is this possible in Pakistan where what is acceptable behaviour from female actors is still largely determined conservative Islamic values?

The answer lies in the identity of the Begum - who is a woman in every sense except the biological one.

"I am God's child," says a smiling Begum Nawazish Ali, or Ali Saleem to give him his birth name, talking to the BBC in his "normal guise".

Clad in jeans and T-shirt, 27-year-old Ali talked passionately about his life and work.

"As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a woman," he declares.

Nawazish Ali
I never refuse anyone anything
Nawazish Ali

Twirling his shoulder length curly brown hair, Ali looks wistfully in the distance as he recounts how it was growing up in Pakistan for someone so unconventional.

"My father was in the army and we used to move around quite a bit," he says.

With his parents, he accepts there were problems, leading to his examination by a psychologist when he was 14-years-old.

The psychologist, however, allayed all fears, and "from that time on my parents were totally behind me".

That Ali was different from other boys was quite evident from his interests.

"I loved playing with dolls and dressing up with my female cousins to whom I have always been very close," he recounts.

In those days of innocence, he would often dream of becoming a woman.

"I wanted to be Sri Devi, Nazia Hasan, Benazir Bhutto... all the beautiful and powerful women in my world," explains Ali.

'Worst period'

Gifted with a great voice and a natural sense of the theatrical, he delighted in displaying his talents.

That was in the early 1990s in Islamabad. Soon after, in 1995, Ali shifted with his family to Karachi.

Nawazish Ali
Nawazish Ali is one of Pakistan's few openly transvestite people

This was "the worst period in my life", he confesses, with his parents going through a divorce.

It was during these depressing days that Ali met "Yasmin, who made everything possible".

Yasmin Ismail was one of Pakistani television's finest actresses, who died of cancer last year.

"She was the best thing that ever happened to me," says the screen star.

Ali explains how Ismail introduced him to theatre, groomed his natural histrionics and generally played the part of his mentor.

"She was my mother, father and best friend," says Ali wistfully, adding "I give her 100% credit for any success I have achieved."

Ismail was involved in a popular theatre group called Gripps, and that was where Ali started out.

"My first performance was in a play called 'Art ya Atta' (Art or Bread) in May 1998," Ali says. He did an impersonation of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the play.

"When I spoke, there was pin drop silence and then the house came down," he exclaims.

The applause was thunderous and the show did record business.

Divorced socialite

The next six years were those of learning and growth. During these times, Ali expanded his repertoire with considerable success.

Nawazish Ali
The actor loves being the darling of the audience

In March 2004, the idea for transvestite chat show hostess Begum Nawazish Ali first came up during a discussion with friends Nadeem Baig and Omar Adil, a national TV host, in Lahore.

"Omar said that he saw me as much more than the typical characters I was doing and we came up with the idea of this middle aged divorced socialite who knows everybody," gushes out Ali.

Initially, Ali promoted it with GEO, one of the largest TV channels. That deal failed to materialize and rival channel Aaj took up the challenge, quickly putting out a pilot.

"Nadeem was Director entertainment and he told me to bring it over," Ali explains. Aaj moved quickly, and a pilot was soon out.

"It was like nothing anybody had seen," says Azfar Ali, a local television producer. "The most amazing thing was the fact that he was able to deliver it all in a way that the masses could relate to it."

Trivialising politics?

No sooner had the first programme finished than the show was the talk of the town.

From politicians to movie stars to sportsmen, all have had their turn on the show.

So popular has the show become that a sitting federal minister specially requested to be invited.

That may have been unnecessary, as Ali smiles and declares saucily, "I never refuse anyone anything".

The show is not without critics, who accuse it of trivialising politics in a country that has had more than its fill of dictators.

Ali denies this, saying "our politicians have been destroyed under a well thought campaign", adding "I want them to be popular again".

Furthermore, he says that the military - such a powerful influence in Pakistan - have been deliberately kept out of the show.

"I believe that democracy is the only option for us, and this is my contribution to the cause," Ali says determinedly.

He also wants to show what kind of country Pakistan really is, in contrast to the 'Terrorism Central' nation that it is often portrayed as.

"And I will do it," Begum exclaims and, smiling seductively, adds "after all who can resist me?"