Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir – For Sweety, 36, being a transgender woman “is a curse.”
Hailing from a remote village in the Budgam district of Kashmir administered by India, Sweety was in her twenties when she realized she was transgender.
Next, sustaining the life of a transwoman was not an easy decision in a conservative place. But being the youngest child of his parents and “the most beloved,” his gender didn’t invite much trouble initially.
However, his fortune did not last long. In 2016, Sweety lost her parents in a four-month interval.
With the coronavirus pandemic that forced people into homes, social gatherings of the LGBTQ community have also stopped. But the home is not a safe place for the marginalized community.
“Asked to leave the house”
In a desperate offer on a March day this year, Sweety took the risk of meeting her friend in the neighborhood.
“When I got home after the meeting, my brother flashed me. He strangled me, I felt out of breath. He attacked my legs and then started hitting me on the feet with a stick, ”he said.
“Even the children at home began to cry.” It stopped only when my sister-in-law intervened. My clothes were thrown out and I was asked to leave the house. ”
Abandoned by her older brother, “presumably to maintain her social status,” as she put it, Sweety has now lived independently and managed the odds, in front of all opponents.
“For my family, my existence is a curse. They want me dead as soon as possible since they consider me a social responsibility, ”he told Al Jazeera while preparing his meal in a dimly lit room.
Sweety said she was hit so severely that she could not walk properly for weeks.
With restrictions on movement and social gatherings, LGBTQ residents in the region have been forced to live with hostile family members who often subject them to all forms of abuse.
The abuse is aggravated during the series of blocks
The problem has been exacerbated by a long period of blockades in Kashmir since August 2019 when the special status of the region was lifted by the Indian government.
The six-month security arrest was immediately followed by the COVID-19 pandemic that erupted in March last year. This year, a second vicious wave of the virus saw another long block in the resting region.
According to the 2011 census, there are more than 4,000 LGBTQ members in the region, although the number could be higher as many are reluctant to express their sexual orientation.
Community members say the locks have seen an increase in violence and persecution against them, with many stories of domestic abuse emerging from the region.
A protracted conflict against the Indian kingdom has also eclipsed their situation, many of them abandoned by their families and subjected to physical, verbal and sexual violence.
They say they often receive pornographic videos, unwanted photos of sexual organs, text messages from strangers asking for sex and lewd calls. They are also threatened to make their identities and photographs public on social media.
“My family tried to burn me.”
Hibba, 28, of the main city of Srinagar, identifies herself as a lesbian butch. He said he was “subjected to the worst form of mental and physical torture” by his family, which “increased the variety during the lockdown.”
He said he had been beaten mercilessly and often locked in a room without food.
“My family tried to burn me. They put hot spoons on my body, ”he said.
“Sometimes I want to end my life, I want to bury my life.” Maybe the wounds will heal but the burns on my soul and my mind will never heal. I am already three parts dead and I hope this torture puts an end to my suffering forever. “
Hibba said he tried to commit suicide several times but “miraculously survived.”
Hibba said the situation was exacerbated by the inability to meet with his partner during the locks. “If I could meet her, I wouldn’t have had all the abuse,” she said.
Aijaz Bund, the first and perhaps only LGBTQ militant in Kashmir, said there has been an exponential increase in violence perpetrated against the community since the first lockdown in 2019.
“LGBTQ + people in Kashmir have always had violence, but in normal times, at least they had a temporary escape from families. They went out for work etc,” he said.
“But for the last two years, they have been forced to live with abuse almost 24 × 7.”
The Bund’s non-profit organization, Sonzal Welfare Trust, is dedicated to the well-being of the LGBTQ community in the Muslim-majority region. He says the number of danger calls has increased since the blockade.
“We would normally receive two or three emergency calls a month, but currently the number of calls exceeds 200,” he said.
Last year, the region’s administration announced a pension scheme under which every transgender was entitled to receive 1,000 rupees ($ 14) every month.
But the policy is yet to be implemented on the ground, with many even questioning whether the amount is enough to survive for a month.
NGOs working for the community are scarce while Kashmiri activists, fearing a social backlash, are not speaking out for their rights.
In such a situation, there are some LGBT people who have managed to gain the acceptance of their families. Muskaan is one of them.
For the 26-year-old transgender, things change when apple crops, her family’s main source of income, have been destroyed for three consecutive years by pests and hail.
“Everyone respects her now”
When the family went into hardship and debt, Muskaan in 2017 decided to take control of the situation.
“When we almost ran out of food, I started matchmaking. I also sing and dance at weddings for money, ”she said.
“When I returned home with money in hand, the violence perpetrated by my family stopped. Soon, I started making all the decisions in the family. ”
Having been forced to drop out of school after facing bullying and abuse from other students, Muskaan had come a long way. He has started traveling a lot throughout the region to look for brides and grooms potential for families looking for a match.
“For a parent, every child is the same and we love them equally. Initially, I was appalled by the reaction of neighbors and relatives and brought it to the healers of faith, ”Muskaan’s mother, Hajira, told Al Jazeera.
“But the way Muskaan took on the role of supporter for the family, everyone respects her now. Her sex was God’s will and being a mother, I can’t deny it.”
But Muskaan was again faced with a crisis in April this year when the region was subjected to another lockdown and marriages stopped. He was left without work while all his savings were consumed.
“We were on the verge of starvation.” The marriages have been postponed and I have had to look for another source of support, ”he told Al Jazeera.
It now works as a mine that manually extracts sand, masses and other minerals from the bed of the Veshow River near its village Yaroo in Kulgam, about 80 km (50 miles) from Srinagar.
“This is very hard work. My body is not made for this. I have to work 10 hours a day under scorching heat to make about 1,400 rupees [$19], ”She said, adding that work was the only way to ensure her family would not abuse her.
New Delhi-based sociologist Adfar Shah told Al Jazeera that being an LGBTQ person in Kashmir “is hell.”
“We discriminate blindly against these people and label them as sexual deviants, malicious and unwanted entities,” he said.
Islamic scholar Maulana Bilal Ahmad Qasmi told Al Jazeera that Islam does not discriminate on the grounds of sex.
“In Islam, trans-people have the same rights as other genders, but it is unfortunate that these people have to deal with abuse of all kinds at the hands of the family and society at large,” he said.