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Housing, Rights and Moral Policing in Kerala

August 3, 2011

People who do not conform in terms of class, caste, age and other dominant and patriarchal power structures are marginalized and repeatedly voiceless in their daily struggles. A friend of mine in Kerala is currently facing lots of problems related to housing due to her living arrangements, class, in-built patriarchal and hetero-normative notions of family and even dressing.  So that no un-foreseen problems arise, I will refer to her as Siya here (not her real name).

Siya has been living in Kerala for two years, and during this time housing and rental properties have always been a problem. Siya lives with her husband, another male cousin, two sisters and occasional friends. All are young people who are in their 20s and 30s and variously work and go to college.  All are social activists from working-class, minority communities who live independently, outside strict familial and traditional structures.

About 4 months ago, two trans-men friends of Siya (who had been living with her temporarily at the time) met each other a short distance from her house at around 9:30pm. Note, all they were doing was talking and standing for only a few minutes. An advocate living in the local residential (who was possibly drunk) saw them and got suspicious. He came out of the house and immediately started asking them questions related to their origin, home, family, etc. He started talking to all the passer-bys and creating a scene by pointing out to them that they are “staying in that house over there” (meaning that Siya’s house was somehow tainted simply for existing).

The two trans-men tried to diffuse the situation by leaving, however the problem got quickly accelerated, made worse by the neighbor. The advocate neighbor called the police. The police came and drove the two distraught trans-men the walking distance to Siya’s house. During the police car ride and the confrontation at the house, the police threatened to take them to the police station and demanded a answers to questions un-related to any crime or even the present situation. As might be expected, all of this attracted a crowd of passer-bys and neighbors of 20 to 30 people.

Supportive allies and activists (including lawyers) quickly came and pacified the immediate crisis. Siya continues to live in the house, however she faces many problems due to this incident. Her house owner was called and there has been a growing local gossip about her and her house.  Siya’s Residential Association have claimed that they have police permission to stop, harass and question anyone “suspicious”, take photos of “suspicious people” and report them to the station.

Siya’s house has exasperated electricity bill and other housing-related problems (monthly bill sometimes comes to Rs.3000/- ! She has very minimal, basic electronic appliances).  She would like to shift, however has faced difficulty in finding housing often due to the stories circulating about her.  The Residential Association and a neighbor have sometimes directly interfered in finding another home.

Siya would like to appeal for any kind of support that you could offer – whether it is legal, housing related, financial or some other political action.

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