In this edition of the blog, I will summarise the progress made on different institutional fronts with respect to the original and subsequent orders made in the S.Sushma case.
I. Sensitisation Programmes for Prison Personnel
The Director General of Prisons, Tamil Nadu appraised the court that sensitisation programmes for the prison personnel on how to interact with queer prisoners had been initiated and were being conducted with the help of the queer community and NGOs working with the community (direction H1 in the June order).
II. Separate Cells for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Prisoners
It was also reiterated before the court that transgender men were housed in the male prisons albeit separately, and transgender women were housed in female prisoners, as per the direction H1 of the court in original June order. Further, it was reported that at present the Tamil Nadu prisons did not have any transgender prisoners. However, the issue of housing transgender men in the men’s prison needs to looked into from the point of view of ascertaining whether doing so increases the vulnerabilities of this population in prison.
III. Amendment to the Police Conduct Rules
In the August order the court had directed that the police conduct rules be amended to address harassment of LGBT persons and associated NGOs by the police. The exact wording of the proposed amendment was made available by the DGP in this order. It reads as follows:
24-C. No police officer shall indulge in any act of harassment of any person belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community and/or persons working for the welfare of the community.
Explanation- For the purpose of this rule, harassment does not include the right of people to make enquiry as per the procedure established by law.
[Tamil Nadu Subordinate Officers Conduct Rules, 1964]
This amendment came into effect in early 2022.
IV. Sensitisation Programmes for the Police
It was also provided that in addition to sensitising prison personnel, sensitisation programmes for members of the police are also part of every training session, once again, conducted with the help of the queer community and associated NGOs (as per direction H1 of the June order). This is a welcome development in the light of the fact that it the court noted in the October order that queer communities and NGOs were not being involved in the training programmes.
V. Judicial Training Programmes
In the October order, the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy had been asked to provide its plan for judicial training on queer issues. In the December hearing, the academy presented that it had begun the training of newly appointment civil judges and assistant public prosecutors. The training materials had been created by UNICEF in conjunction with the UNICEF and NGOs working on queer issues. Such training had been required by the original June order (direction H3). In fact, that direction had gone even further and required that ‘judicial officers at all levels’ be trained on discriminatory attitudes toward the queer community. Accordingly, in the December hearings the court called for the training to be so extended.
VI. Training the Legal Services Authority of Tamil Nadu
The June order had required that the Legal Services Authority of Tamil Nadu undergo training on queer issues (direction H2). Up to now, no clear compliance had been shown with this direction exception the one-off mention of a training programme conducted in 28 districts in Tamil Nadu (August order). The training provided to the legal services authority personnel itself had not yet been initiated. In this order, the court directed that the legal services authority co-ordinate with the judicial training academy, in particular to access the training materials used by the academy. The training of the legal services authority is critical because it provides legal services to the public at large and understanding issues faced by the queer community would be crucial to provide effective legal services to them.
Further, the original direction H2 had also required the legal services authority to be educated as regards the rights of transgender persons, as codified under the Transgender Protection of Rights Act, 2019. That direction also required free legal aid to be provided to the queer community and the inclusion of queer issues in the Lok Adalat. While the issue of training the legal services personnel was taken up in the December hearings, other directions passed with respect to them were not picked up.
In response, the authority provided that they had amended their calendar activities to conduct awareness programmes relating to the queer community once every two months. These programmes were designed to educate the general public, school and college students, government officials and other stakeholders. Further, the legal services authority also listed the legal clinics for transgender persons run with the help of NGOs at the following locations: Namakhal, Tiruvallur, Tirunelveli, Madurai and Thanjavur. In addition, the authority provided that it had empallened three paralegal transgender volunteers at Thanjavur, Vellore and Tiruvallur to reach out to the transgender community.
The next hearing was scheduled for the 18th of February, 2022.