A trans-identified male has been arrested in Mumbai after robbing and sexually assaulting a commuter in the women’s car of a commuter train. Prafulla Panchal, who uses the alias Sania, 23, brandished a fake gun while threatening to murder the victim.
As the train began to leave the station, Panchal approached the woman and sat directly across from her. He then began making “lewd gestures,” according to The Times of India. Using a fake gun to threaten her, he stole over Rs 4000 (approx. $50.00 USD) from the frightened woman, at which point he also began to grope her. The attack took place just minutes after the car’s uniformed guard left the car as his shift ended.
After Panchal exited the train, the victim, a flower seller from Bhiwandi, went to police and lodged a formal complaint.
“There were four to five other travelers in the compartment but none came to the victim’s rescue. The victim was courageous enough to shoot videos of Panchal discreetly. She gave us these videos later and they helped us to track him down,” said Senior Inspector Anil Kadam.
Authorities charged Panchal with extortion and molestation. Panchal had previously been booked for a similar offense that involved burglary at knifepoint.
The attack comes just weeks after a similar incident in a women’s-only train car, with a male boarding the car and attacking the sole female passenger once the guard had left his post.
Hijra are broadly defined as a ‘third gender‘ in India, but in recent years they have begun to be recognized under the ‘transgender’ umbrella. Hijra are primarily characterized by the development of their feminine identity through their sexual receptiveness to men as well as a castration ceremony that some, but not all, undertake. Hijra wear stereotypically feminine clothes, and often leave their families to join fictive kinship hierarchies with other Hijra, many of which are criminal gangs engaged in petty crime.
Some Hijra gangs engage in ‘blessing’ scams in which they extort money from the parents of newborn babies under threat of curses, kidnapping, or physical harm, leading them to sometimes be described as “mafia-like.”
Over the last few years, there have been multiple reported cases of Hijra criminal gangs abducting young boys, castrating them, and trafficking them in the sex trade.
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