Last week, the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) in its budget announced a plan to build Kerala's first-ever hostel for transgender people. The hostel, Rainbow Home, will be built on GCDA land near the Ambedkar stadium in Kochi, as reported by the New Indian Express. This move comes after transgender people have struggled for proper accommodation while facing constant threat in a non-inclusive society.
For many transgender people, a place to call home remains inaccessible in a country that still resists equal rights for all genders. For instance, while homosexuality was decriminalised in 2018, gender inclusivity and recognition of LGBTQIA+ people’s rights remain mostly unreachable with the government continuing to cradle its gravely problematic views.
Earlier this month, the Indian government opposed the recognition of same-sex marriages with the Ministry of Law stating that although there may be various forms of relationships in society, the legal recognition of marriage is for heterosexual relationships and the state has a legitimate interest in maintaining this, as reported by Reuters.
Following Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 the government set up 12 Garima Greh shelters for transgender persons across India in 2020-21 with the guidelines of providing each shelter with 36 lakhs every year to cover expenses such as rent, food, administrative overheads, and staff salaries. However, a recent report by journalist Saadhya Mohan for The Quint showed that these shelters are struggling.
The report stated that the shelters have allegedly not received the funds promised by the government in 2022. When asked, there is no proper response, the project director of Garima Greh in Kolkata told the daily. “The children who are in Garima Grehs have either run away from their homes or have been made to leave. They can't go back. If proper shelter is not provided to them, they will leave and become vulnerable to begging, violence, and sex work,” Maya Awasthy, Project Director of Garima Greh in Mumbai told The Quint.
For transgender people who often face discrimination and violence at home, the right to proper housing has been a long struggle, impacting their access to education and employment and adding to the cemented barriers they constantly have to fight through. In December 2020, Aruvi, a student at the University of Hyderabad wrote an open letter to the Transgender Committee of the university about trans housing. “The issue of trans housing is a contentious one under the best of circumstances, and it is definitely exacerbated by a shortage of available housing both in the wider society and on campus,” the student wrote.
They also described that, as an openly transgender person, finding accommodation outside campus has been challenging as people don’t even state a reason to reject accommodation and humiliate them. Moreover, even when they get accommodation, the rent is higher and legal lease agreements are refused.
Moreover, segregation in existing hostels leaves no space for trans people. “Transgender people forced into rigidly segregated cisgender spaces face many issues ranging from intrusive curiosity to physical and psychological violence when perceived as wrongfully entering gender-segregated spaces, such as bathrooms. To speak in plain language, trans women will be considered as predatory men invading women’s hostels,” Aruvi wrote.
Talking about possible solutions, Aruvi mentioned gender-neutral hostels. In 2018, Tata Institute of Social Sciences became the first college campus in India to set up gender-neutral hostel following a campaign by Queer Collective (QC), a student organization at TISS. It was thought of as setting a precedent for other college campuses to follow. However, this has not been the case. Last year, Yashika, a transgender student at Panjab University, had to fight a nine-month battle to be allocated a hostel room, as reported by Hindustan Times. Yashika was finally allocated a room at the faculty house.
Considering the lack of progress, setting up hostels for transgender people comes across as a crucial but also the most basic step towards creating spaces that don’t constantly threaten them. But it is important to acknowledge that more needs to be done. “This is a good move by the Kerala government. But it’s important to see how it is implemented. If cisgender people are in charge of the hostel then the power dynamics could put trans people in a vulnerable position. There also needs to be a committee run by transgender people to monitor discrimination or violence against them in these spaces,” says Grace Banu, writer and trans-right activist told Lounge.
Banu also highlighted how the spaces should be accessible to all. “It’s important to spread the news about these hostels in the rural areas where people often don’t have safe places or privilege.”
While setting up hostels goes a long way to make transgender people a place to call their own, it needs to be accompanied by solutions such as reservations for transgender people in employment and education. “For many years we have been demanding reservations for transgender people in the government sector to provide them employment opportunities. This has still not been implemented by the Kerala government,” says Banu.
In 2021, the Karnataka government announced a 1% reservation for transgender persons in any service or post in all categories of employment which will be filled through a direct recruitment process, becoming the first state to do so. Banu says, “Providing hostels is one of the solutions. Implementing reservations is an important step forward in this fight.”