Bangalore police have been accused of arresting and mistreating more than 40 people at a peaceful demonstration.

The conflict reportedly flared when five hijras (working-class, male-to-female, transgender people) were arrested by police on October 20th in what the local Daily News and Analysis called a “drive against the city’s eunuch menace.”

According to Human Rights Watch, police took them to Girinagar police station, verbally abused them, and beat one severely.

“A five-person crisis team from the Bangalore-based NGO Sangama went to Girinagar police station to assist in their release, which has taken only a few hours in previous cases,” HRW said in a statement.

Team members told Human Rights Watch that officers there beat, slapped, and kicked them, before returning them to the Girinagar station, where officers sexually abused two members on the team. Police charged all five with “unlawful assembly” and “obstructing a public servant,” and locked them up.

A total of 42 people were detained. The negotiators later informed Human Rights Watch that police officials told them higher-level authorities had ordered a campaign to arrest hijras on serious charges.

“These arrests clearly show that it is time for India’s repressive attitudes and laws to change,” said Dipika Nath, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“Such blatant police violence points to a system where prejudice trumps justice.”

The High Court in Delhi is at present considering whether to overturn the laws against “unnatural sex” in place from colonial times, that are used to prosecute gay people.

The activists eventually appeared before magistrates, and by 5:00 p.m. on October 21, all were released.

The five hijras originally arrested were freed on bail on October 22. However, many still face charges ranging from extortion (in the case of the hijras) to unlawful assembly and rioting.

Hijras are often unable to obtain identity papers because their gender identity and appearance do not correspond to their sex at birth.

As a result, many cannot find housing, education, or legal employment – or, in many cases, even vote.

The effective loss of basic citizenship rights – coupled with widespread social prejudice leaves them economically marginalised and exposed to police abuse.