A state government in India has hired transgender people to serve as bodyguards to protect vulnerable women from sexual assault and other forms of violence.
A recent audit of more than 100 safe houses in Bihar state, where women and girls who have survived attacks, sex trafficking, and other hardships, are housed, revealed systematic abuse by one of the owners. Last week, a security guard was arrested on suspicion of raping a girl at the center where he worked.
The reported abuse has sparked outrage and protest, including several women’s rights organizations declaring today, July 20, “black day,” to draw attention to the situation and ask officials why they have been silent.
The head of Bihar’s social welfare department told The Guardian the state would employ both trans people and eunuchs to act as security in the homes, where women are offered opportunities including rehabilitation and job training.
Sexual assaults in the region have reached epidemic levels, with a government report finding there were at least three reports of rape per day in the state. That equals around 1,100 being reported each year in the state the past five years.
“The recent incidents of rapes at short stay homes have shocked us. So we have planned to employ eunuchs as guards there,” said the welfare department secretary, Atul Prasad, who described it as a win-win situation for all involved.
The term eunuch is used more loosely in Indian culture than elsewhere, and includes intersex and transgender people.
“Apart from providing us employment, the new job will also give us social recognition,” Anita Hijra, a transgender person from Patna, told the publication. “This could be a small initiative but will bring huge change in the society in the long run. We are very happy.”
“Let aside employment generation, it will earn them a good social status,” Reshama Prasad, a member of the state’s Eunuch Welfare Board, said. “Normally they are looked down upon by the society.”
While some initiatives have been taken to make life better for trans people in India, including offering free education, and providing public restrooms specifically for the community’s use, they still face discrimination and acts of violence.
Last year, a transgender woman was found strangled to death at the site of India’s first Pride parade, which took place in 2009.
Earlier this year, a mob beat a transgender woman to death over false rumors that she and her group were there to kidnap children.
An incident that allegedly occurred in May has also just come to light, with members of the transgender community claiming police, while hurling insults, made them undress in public to prove their gender.