Tragedy on Trans Day of Remembrance in India

A hijra walks through the debris from the disastrous fire (Kevin Frayer/AP)

It’s appalling that a day dedicated to the memory of victims of prejudice should be marked by more deaths, victims of apparent incompetence. But that seems to be what has happened in Delhi. The Hindu says:

Members of Sangama and the Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum on Monday condemned the Delhi Government for not putting fire safety systems in place which, they said, led to the charring to death of 15 hijras in a fire at Nand Nagri in north-east Delhi on Sunday.

The fire blazed through a makeshift tent where a large number of hijras had gathered to honour deceased friends.

The incident created panic among community members who had gathered for the ceremony. Several others who tried to escape were also injured.

“We stand together with more than 50 seriously injured hijras, families of deceased hijras and with the hijra community as a whole in this moment of deep sorrow. From media reports it is very clear that fire safety measures and emergency evacuation facilities were not adequate in the Delhi Municipal Corporation’s community hall, where more than 1,000 members of the transgender community had gathered as part of its community congregation,” said a joint statement issued by executive director of Sangama Manohar Elavarthi and State coordinator of the forum Mahesh Patil.

“We strongly condemn the negligence of the Delhi Government for not putting fire safety systems in place, which would have saved precious lives,” the statement said.

The New York Times (just think of that!) gives more details — although falling back on the term “eunuch” to explain to its readership who the victims are. Its story indicates this was more than a commemoration of the Day of Remembrance: “Sunday was to be the first day of a 10-day private festival organized by the community to honor a guru, offer prayers and feast together.” One hijra, Naina, told the Times it was a lengthy, regular gathering where “eunuchs of all age groups from India come together and we share our thoughts and try to solve our problems during these events.”

Attendees were expected from parts of South Asia. … Sanjay Kumar Jain, the Delhi police commissioner for the North East District, estimated that 500 to 700 eunuchs were present during the fire, but some eunuchs said the crowd was a few thousand people. …

Surjeet Kumar, an eyewitness who lives behind the accident site, said that the entrance to the makeshift tent was extremely congested when he saw the blaze. He said he and his neighbors dragged some victims over a gate that was barring the entrance to the tent, and took them to a nearby park before police and the fire officials came after numerous phone calls.

The scene outside the Accident and Emergency wing at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital was grim. More than a hundred eunuchs had gathered, some sitting on the floor holding on to their belongings, with others taking turns going to the morgue and the burns ward and a few hugging.

“More than 5,000 members of our community were supposed to participate in the 10-day long program,” said Shaboo, who like many other eunuchs goes by just one name. …

As the sun set, the crowd begun to disperse somewhat as eunuchs from nearby areas returned home. Others waited at the hospital, some to collect the dead bodies of their friends from the hospital authorities or tend to the injured. Some remained because they had traveled to the meeting from outside Delhi and didn’t have a shelter for the night. …

The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit on Monday announced compensation of 200,000 rupees, or $3,800, to the next of kin of each eunuch killed.

TV9 has wrenching footage of the fire (in Hindi):

This is a sorrowful day.