HCU students protest against alleged transphobic attack on Dalit trans leader 

Hritik Lalan, who was elected as the representative of GSCASH from the Ambedkar Students’ Union, was allegedly attacked by ABVP cadre for campaigning in the Ladies’ Hostel 
Pic: EdexLive
Pic: EdexLive

Student organisations from the University of Hyderabad, commonly known as Hyderabad Central University (HCU), staged a protest at the university admin building at 10.30 am yesterday, September 25. 

This protest was against the alleged transphobic harassment and abuse meted out by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) towards Hritik Lallan, Ambedkar Students’ Association’s representative (ASA) in HCU’s Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH). 

Hritik, a Dalit transgender woman, is the first trans person to be elected to the GSCASH panel of any central university in India. According to a condemnation statement released by ASA in the early hours of yesterday, her presence and assertion in the GCASH panel have “not sat well with the aggressively Brahminical sections of the campus community”. 

What happened

Detailing an incident that took place on Sunday, September 24, Hritik, while speaking to EdexLive, says that she, along with a few women members of ASA-HCU were visiting the Ladies’ Hostel to campaign and interact with the newly joined first-year students. This group also included Sabari Girija Ranjan, President of ASA-HCU. “We wanted to familiarise these students with ASA and assure them that they can approach us if they face any kind of challenges,” she says. 

While the group was campaigning, a woman member of ABVP allegedly noticed Hritik in the hostel and rallied other members and supporters. Blocking the corridor Hritik and the other ASA members were in, the alleged ABVP-led group accosted Hritik and began questioning her presence in the Ladies’ Hostel. “A few people from the group even started filming me without my consent and sent the video to the Chief Security Officer, accusing me of being a threat to the hostel residents. When we finished our campaigning and stepped out of the hostel building, the Chief Security Officer was present and banned me from entering the Ladies’ Hostel building,” Hritik narrated. 

She further details that when Sabari tried to intervene, the security staff allegedly manhandled her, and even tried to check her bag by force. “Such humiliating and undignified treatment towards the President of the oldest Ambedkarite Student Union in HCU, who is also a senior research scholar, is extremely unbecoming of the security staff,” Hritik says. 

Witnessing the events that transpired, the students in the area, along with ASA, staged an impromptu protest against the security staff’s behaviour. Both the HCU Student Union (HCUSU) and ASA released statements, condemning the transphobic abuse meted out to Hritik and the manhandling of Girija. 

In their statement, ASA writes, “Such ostracism is regularly practised by caste Hindu society against transgenders and Dalits, and this was nothing but an extension of that practice in the university space,” referring to the ban placed on Hritik. 

Following these statements, hateful and transphobic messages started being circulated on WhatsApp, allegedly by ABVP. “These messages were questioning my gender identity and if I was really a woman,” alleges Hritik. She further claims that a few messages questioned how she was eligible to contest the HCU elections as a woman. 

Thus, HCUSU called for a protest against this harassment, demanding proper protection and policies for transgender persons on campus, as well as strict punishment against the perpetrators of these attacks.

Protest and resolution

The protest, which began at 10.30 am in the morning yesterday, reportedly lasted for eight hours. Along with ASA, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and Dalit Students’ Association (DSU), which also constitute the HCUSU, were part of the protest. 

“A bulk of the time went into negotiations and meetings with the university’s admin,” claims Hritik. She says that the admin reportedly assured the student union that transgender persons on campus would be protected, and agreed to convene a meeting of the already existing Transgender Committee in HCU. 

Further, the admin also agreed to bring in some policy-level changes for transgender students’ accommodation, including setting up gender-neutral hostels for special cases and adding a third gender option for transgender students along with “male” and “female” in the hostel application form, according to Hritik. 

“The policies for transgender students are extremely murky and vague and can be taken advantage of to discriminate against transgender persons on campus,” Hritik claims and adds that the Transgender Committee would be directed to give strong policy recommendations for the protection of the transgender student community. 

However, she also says that it remains to be seen whether the admin would actually implement these recommendations, once the committee releases them. 

Repeated instances 

Reportedly, this was not the first time Hritik was targeted for visiting the Ladies’ Hostel on official duty. 

One such incident took place on the eve of Ambedkar Jayanti when she visited the hostel on a door-to-door campaign to invite its residents to the celebrations organised by ASA-HCU on the campus. 

In response to this, a few female students from ABVP objected to her presence and even filed a complaint accusing her of “being a threat” to the residents of the Hostel. 

“I was not aware of this complaint until I was summoned by the Internal Complaints Committee regarding this,” Hritik says. She further claims, “I argued that such complaints and restrictions not only act as a hindrance to my political activity and campaigning but also prevent me from performing my duties. Because my case was strong, the complaint against me was quashed.”

Further, she adds that throughout the inquiry, ASA and the student union supported her.

In both instances, Hritik alleged that most of the perpetrators of harassment and transphobia directed towards her were men, with just a handful of women from ABVP. 

“When I was heckled in the Ladies’ Hostel on Sunday, the group that accosted ASA was mostly men from the ABVP. The derogatory WhatsApp messages about me were forwarded by men from the ABVP,” she claims. 

These attacks against her, she says, do not have anything to do with protecting women. 

“If women on the campus saw me as a threat, why would they support me and elect me to the students’ union – that too, on the GSCASH Panel? They would not share details of the sexual harassment they face on campus if they did not trust me,” she shares. Further, she points to the fact that the University Election Commission let her contest as a woman. 

“I keep going to the Ladies' Hostel due to my political work. My entry was never barred, nor did anyone in the hostel object to my presence,” she says. As ABVP is not in power, she adds, they resort to such rabble-rousing to attack students from marginalised communities and disrupt campus peace, and that there is no truth to their accusations. 

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