Violence against LGBTQI+ people continuesSafety of sexual minorities in question after two members of the queer community were beaten up on suspicions of stealing babies in Siraha on Saturday.
Last Saturday, Munni Kinnar was on her way back home to Dumari from Laxmipur with her friend, Chanda Raut, after visiting her ailing sister. What followed their visit to Laxmipur has scarred the two friends both physically and emotionally.
“I am still trying to comprehend what happened to us,” said Munni, who sustained serious injuries from a thrashing she was subjected to by Laxmipur locals.
Members of the LGBTIQ+ community, 43-year-old Munni and 47-year-old Chanda, residents of Kalyanpur Municipality in Siraha and Hansapur Municipality of Dhanusha respectively, say the locals of Laxmipur Chowk in Bishnupur Rural Municipality-5, Siraha physically abused the two on suspicions of stealing a newborn.
A mob gathered and first verbally abused the duo using indecent language and then proceeded to beat them up indiscriminately. The abuse stopped only after the arrival of the security personnel from the Area Police Office in Bishnupur. The police personnel rescued the duo from the clutches of the unruly mob. But by then Munni had already sustained serious injuries to her body.
“The villagers beat us up calling us thieves. They accused us of stealing infants and refused to listen to our pleadings. We told them we are a sexual minority and also members of the Blue Diamond Society but no one listened to us,” said Munni. “It was painful and humiliating to be subjected to abuse like that.”
The Blue Diamond Society is Nepal’s oldest LGBTIQ+ rights organisation with branches across the country.
Following the incident, Munni filed a complaint with the police seeking justice. Based on the complaint, police detained Madan Mahato of Laxmipur on Tuesday on the charge of physically abusing people from the sexual minority group.
According to Deputy Superintendent of Police Subas Budhathoki, who is also the information officer at the District Police Office in Siraha, a complaint of ‘indecent behaviour’ has been filed against Mahato in connection with the incident. “Detailed investigation is underway. We are searching for the other accused involved in the incident,” said Budhathoki.
Munni and her group traditionally visit houses where a new baby is born. They celebrate with the family and bless the baby. The family provides them with gifts in cash and kind in a gesture of appreciation. But on Saturday, Munni and Chanda were not out on their jobs. They were visiting a family member. “We never came in touch with a baby that day, let alone steal one,” said Munni. “The locals took offence at us being there at that moment.”
In Tarai districts, the practice of inviting members of the sexual minority groups to celebrate the birth of a child is still very much alive. The invitees, who visit the home of the newborn on the sixth day of birth, perform the “pamriya” dance through which they congratulate the new parents and bless the child; recite folk tales and become a part of jubilant celebrations.
Of late, rumour has been circulating in several districts about women from India entering Nepal to steal babies. This has led to incidents of violence against women of Madheshi origin, and also members of the LGBTIQ+ community.
The Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police on Tuesday dismissed the rumour and issued a public appeal to stop circulating baseless news on social media platforms.
For queer community members, violence against the LGBTIQ+ community remains a distressing reality.
Lakshmeshwar Prasad Yadav, programme coordinator of the Blue Diamond Society, says that Munni and Chanda faced abuse mostly because they are queer. “The locals found it easier to accuse Munni and Chanda of being thieves because they are queer.”
LGBTIQ+ people have been living under threat in the absence of stringent government measures to protect marginalised communities, say queer rights activists.
In January 2020, Ajita Bhujel, a transgender, was beaten to death in Hetauda. The body of the 29-year-old was found naked at the local Kyampadanda road.
In March 2019, 31-year-old Junu Gurung, a third gender, was found murdered in her apartment at Lazimpat in the Capital.
Both incidents were “hate crimes” against the LGBTIQ+ community, say queer rights activists.
Peter Rai, a transgender woman working with the Blue Diamond Society, Kathmandu, says Saturday’s episode is also a “hate crime” because the perpetrators had no proof of Munni and Chanda stealing babies. “They were accused in the first place because they are queer,” she said. “The Blue Diamond Society in Janakpur is following up on the issue. This is not an isolated incident. This has happened before to members of our community. It is cruel of people to treat us like we are not humans and ostracise us for our gender and sexual identities.”
“The government must formulate new laws and upgrade the existing policies and laws to provide protection to the marginalised and the sexual minorities,” she said.