[Ajay Sathyan alleges he was attacked by police in Chennai, India on June 6 for being gay. When it was reported by local news outlets, some changed his name to offer him further protection. Now Sathyan has decided to come forth and tell his story to help others.]
I’ve mustered every bit of courage that is left in me to write this. To finally write about the darker side of Chennai. By doing this I know I’m risking a lot, but I’m not going to be just another victim who is not going to show his face, who is not going to share his name or tell his story. I want tell everyone that violence against LGBT people is real and it exists even in Chennai.
It may come as a shock to many Indians and expats who have lived in this city for a considerable time. You may have known that Chennai is the most tolerable and one the most hospitable cities in India. You may have heard that it is a city that harbors the friendliest of people and the smartest of minds. But there are exceptions to the rule; I’ve experienced those exceptions – horrific, painful and haunting exceptions. Experiences that have left me traumatized and damaged to the extent that I wake in the middle of the night screaming in agony. Here is one such incident that has deprived me of my sleep, my peace, my strength, my sprit, my faith; an incident that pushed me to take my life – once again.
It was one of the worst days of my life – Friday, 6th June 2014. Earlier in the evening, I was laughed at an interview yet again. The HR was convincing me that I will never get a job anywhere as long as I existed and I had to wait till 8:30 p.m. to listen to her yap after clearing rounds of interviews and tests. I was so close to telling her my hindrances. So close to telling her about my learning disabilities and that I’m obviously gay and that these factors have cost me my career. But I decided not to tell her. I knew she would not understand, I knew she would judge me because she is ignorant and I didn’t want to be embarrassed all over again in this company too. Crestfallen, I was on my way to my parent’s place where I stay these days. I had to take a bus and a train to reach my destination and then walk another 40 minutes in the dark, crossing a cremation ground, a lake, and a few creepy deserted places. Every day when I step out, I always hope and wish that I don’t get molested or hurt.
On that Friday, my hopes were meant to go down the drain. I got off the train late in the evening around half past 10 and began to walk towards my parent’s place. I always wear earphones listening to music and swiftly walk to avoid anything near or around me. When I was 20 minutes away from my destination I noticed around 8-10 cops standing near a police jeep. Almost all of them were not in their uniforms from their waist above. I was able to confirm that were cops by the khaki pants and the brown shoes that they were wearing. I saw three policewomen and five -six policemen. One of the policewomen, as I quickly passed them, pointed to me and yelled “Why are you wearing that thing that women wear? Why are you wearing leggings?” I picked up my pace and walked faster pretending not hearing her. She immediately signaled two policemen to grab me. The two policemen ran to me, grabbed me by the back of my neck and dragged me to the group, as I kept protesting and fighting. One of the men hit me in my shin with his stick for not stopping and instead, walking away. The women kept saying “Ai ombothu (offensive term for a hijra), pottai (offensive term for an effeminate man) can’t you hear me? Are you deaf?” She then asked why I was wearing leggings. I kept quiet and I didn’t respond. She then said “Your kaai (offensive term for breasts) are really big.” As I’m chubby and as I have a fleshy chest she was referring to my chest as breasts. The two policemen who held me, immediately felt my chest and when I protested a third policemen with a stick hit me on my knees. Then the two policemen felt my ass and commented on how big and plump it is. They said I may be taking a lot of dick up my ass. The policeman with the stick commented about my face. He said “I can fuck your pretty face as long I live.” and then tried to put the wooden stick in my mouth. When I turned away from him a fourth cop walked to me and slapped me right across my face.
I cried out to them to stop this and asked them why they were doing this. They said that all the ombothu and pottai men have become a nuisance which is unacceptable. I told them that I’m not a hijra. One of the policewomen looked at me and said “Your face is prettier than ours, you’re a ombothu.” The policewomen looked at the policemen and then looked at me and asked if I underwent an operation. When I kept quite one of the policemen lifted my kurta and felt my crotch and then he laughed out loud and asked the others to feel me up. There were suddenly a lot of hands feeling me up and vandalizing me. I struggled and protested and one of them slapped me again across my face, another punched me in my stomach and then I was hit with a stick again on my knees.
While all this was going on, they took my bag and ransacked it, they found my address book, my id cards and took down my address and my phone number. One of the policemen warned me to behave and said that I should visit them whenever I was called. They warned me never to speak of this to anyone as they know where I live and that they will hurt me and my family, that they will book me in a false case and incarcerate me and my family if required. They warned me that they will strip me naked and force a man on me, take obscene photos and incarcerate me under IPC section 377. One of the policemen said “Since IPC section 377 has been criminalized which makes your kind illegal, we can do anything we want and nobody will question us, even the government will support us.” They said that they have strong political support and influence from both the national and regional ruling parties and said that any wrong move from my end will lead to my ruin.
This is the city I live in. I live everyday waiting for something hurtful to happen to me. I live a life with imminent threats. This is what they did to me and it wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced horror like this. Late in the evening in 2013 after attending a Film Festival, I dropped my friend at his place and was waiting for a train at the Nungambakkam railway station. I managed to catch the last train and the compartment that I was in was completely deserted. As the train neared Saidapet, 4-5 men got in the train and they didn’t look friendly. I could smell cheap alcohol and I knew that they were drunk. The men noticed me and quickly walked towards me. One of them complimented my kurta and asked me where I got it from. I immediately moved away from him and walked closer to the door. The men came closer to me and asked me to join them to drink and have sex with them. When I tried to get away from them they grabbed me and hit me. Then they tore the back of my kurta, turned me around to face them and tore the kurta from my neck to my waist as another guy tore my sleeve off. I struggled hard and pushed them away and tried to run to the end of the compartment. One guy tripped my leg and I fell crashing down on the floor.
One of them grabbed my legs and another tried to pull my jeans down. I kicked the guy who was holding my legs and hit the other with my bag and quickly pulled myself up and as I tried to run, one of them tore some more of my kurta. The train slowed down at Guindy and I quickly jumped out of the train. All I heard was a railway police whistling but I didn’t want to wait to tell him what happened to me and I ran out of the station and to the road covering my body with all the torn pieces of my kurta. There were few rickshaw drivers who immediately without questioning put me in one of the rickshaws and rode away.
I was able to defend myself from those men now that I’m grown, but I couldn’t do that when I was 13. When my face was smashed in a urinal and when eight men raped me. I couldn’t defend myself, I couldn’t but try to scream even though I was muffled and took the pain. The scar on my right eyebrow reminds me of that horrid day till now and it doesn’t stop there, it’s been 15 years and I still ache with phantom pain in my nightmares waking up screaming in horror reliving them again and again. I still do. I don’t know when they will stop. I’ve now shut myself away from all human contact, except my family. I’m now too scared and damaged to even meet my acquaintances. Unable to deal with all of this hurt I tried to stop it all last Saturday. I tried to take my life but I was saved yet again. Now that the moment has passed – I’m too afraid to take my life. I will have to relive my horrifying past again and again and again; hoping for an even horrifying future ahead of me.