Police in Bangalore reportedly forced about 100 hijras (working-class transgender people) from their homes last week.
Human rights groups said this is part of a pattern of prejudice-driven violence and abuse in the city aimed at hijras, mostly male-to-female working-class trans people.
Human Rights Watch has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and local authorities.
There have been national newspaper reports in India claiming that Bangalore police had captured a “gang” of hijras who kidnapped children, castrated them, and forced them into sex work.
The press also claimed that the accused hijras were associated with Sangama, a Bangalore-based LGBT organisation.
HRW said the police used these stories to justify the mass evictions of hijras from their homes.
“Of course, all reports of child abuse should be thoroughly investigated,” said Dipika Nath, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights programme at HRW.
“But authorities are also responsible for sorting out fact from prejudice – and there is no excuse for targeting an entire community for retaliation.”
Five hijras were arrested by police on October 20th in what the local press called a “drive against the city’s eunuch menace.”
They also arrested 41 human rights defenders – including hijras, Dalits, women’s rights and sex worker activists, and trade union activists – who came to their defence.
When challenged on their unconstitutional actions, the police told some of the activists that they had orders from higher up to round up hijras in Bangalore.
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.
Accounts of hijras kidnapping children and changing their sex are a common folk myth in many parts of India.
Immediately after the kidnapping reports appeared on November 9th, the police inspector of Amrutahalli police station in Bangalore issued a notice to about 40 homeowners in the Dasarahalli neighborhood – known for having a substantial hijra population – requiring them to evict all hijras who rented apartments or rooms from them.
More than 100 hijras rented rooms there, and most found themselves on the streets. Several lost their security deposits, and some lost all their belongings.
One hijra told newspapers and local activists that she could not even find an autorickshaw driver to give her a ride because hijras had been labelled kidnappers.
Police deny responsibility for the evictions, claiming the homeowners evicted their hijra tenants because of the charges of kidnapping in the press.
The Hindu reported that it had a copy of the notice the police personally served to the homeowners.
“The near-absolute legal and political disenfranchisement of hijras in most parts of India relies in part on myths about criminal and antisocial behavior as communal characteristics,” said Ms Nath.
“Because of prevailing myths that hijras habitually kidnap young boys, reports of the arrest of two hijras on criminal charges are a convenient excuse to target the entire community without arousing public outcry.”