There is uncertainty in our future: Transgender community amid pandemic and lockdown

Photo courtesy to Sampoorna India

Nationwide lockdown, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, has left Transgenders facing a variety of issues. The majority of the community is working class with daily wages.

Transgender activists and academicians told Maktoob that one of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in India are facing more severe issues under the pandemic controlled lockdown.

“What is extremely agonizing and painful from the lens of the transgender community is that this has meant another invisibilization of the community because in this entire month there has barely been any official acknowledgment of the kind of impact that both the pandemic and particularly the lockdown would have and it has already had on the community across the country,” Meera Sanghamitra who is working with the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti told Maktoob.

No money

Transgender people have had a significant impact of this unplanned lockdown on their lives. They used to earn their livelihood by working daily, either as beggars or by doing sex-work.

After the beginning of lockdown, transgenders are struggling to make ends meet. Like the majority of daily wagers in the country, the trans community is also facing problems like lack of food, inability to pay rent, etc.

“Our livelihood has taken a hit. We don’t have money in their hands. The little money we had has already been spent on buying essentials like food and medicines. If they had told us that lockdown would begin from a certain date, then we would have planned accordingly.” Rachana Mudraboyina, creator of India’s first transgender YouTube channel, TransVision said to Maktoob.

“An overwhelming number of the community people are into and particularly those who are publicly present. Their livelihood is based on the public presence such as sex work and begging which is their primary way of engagement. With social distancing and this whole pandemic it has come to a halt,” Hyderabad based transgender activist Meera says.

“House owners are not even understanding that there is a moratorium on paying rent. The trans community alone faces several other problems like the prohibition of begging and sex work at this time, which would last even beyond the lockdown. So there is uncertainty in the future of the community,” Karthik Bittu Kondiah who is an Associate Professor of Biology and Psychology at Ashoka University told Maktoob

Transgender activists demanded a specific order that no evictions of transgenders from their houses or imposed to pay rent till the end of May.

“There have been assurances by Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana governments. But we want an all India declaration for all the people but at least from the context of the transgender community,” Meera demanded.

Cut off from life-saving medications

“They also face cut off from various life-saving medications like HIV medications and hormone medications. They’ve been stopped from accessing them for free. Even surgeries have been postponed due to widespread fear and worries,” Bittu who received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in neuroscience said.

They also demand adequate healthcare, amidst the corona, there are people suffering from tuberculosis, there are people who are on hormones or injectibles and need that supply.

“Lack of excess to these is also a serious concern,” transgender activists say.

Lack of government aids

Meera accused the BJP government of not announcing any package for the transgender community in India. “In fact even when the package was announced by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman; there was no reference to the transgender community,” Meera said.

“Transgenders have had to depend on private donations. Only Kerala, via Kudumbshree, has done something for the transgender people. No other state has even talked about our issues.” says Rachana.

On behalf of the transgender community, several transgender activists and rights groups have been writing to the state governments. There have been petitions and interventions at the level of the high court in some states.

“We have also written to the Central Ministry and we are planning to make an open appeal. And in our previous letter we did point out some of these issues and there was a small package announced by the National Institute of Finance of Social Defence under the Social Justice Ministry, but the package was very limited. It was Rs 1500 and there was a certain timeline to register which was for less than one week. People had to submit their details, somewhere around 4500 people from across the country tried to reach and they did obtain the benefit,” Meera complains.

It only covered less than 1 percent of the overall transgender population in the country.

Transgender rights groups told Maktoob that they are now trying to approach the Central Government to declare a special finance package for the community.

“Our demand is based on equal citizenship. It is not a charity that the government has to give but it is based on the notion of equal citizenship under the constitution and also the fact that various vulnerable populations regardless of what are their numerical constituencies and whether or not we constitute the ‘vote bank’ for any government, we are entitled to rights as citizens,” Meera added.

“The central government, the National Backward Classes corporation and NISD (National Institute Of Social Defense) had instituted a one time help of 1500 rupees for the members of the transgender community with bank accounts and Adhar cards but many without bank accounts and Adhar cards have not been reached. A number of state governments have also provided help,” Bittu said to Maktoob.

Many have no ration cards, no pension, and no form of monetary support from the state which has aggravated the situation much more.

The ration being distributed through the Public Distribution System hasn’t been reaching the transgender community because many of them do not have the required documentation like Aadhar card, ration card, and whatever else is required to avail all benefits for people marked below the poverty line.

“We don’t have any official data on the transgender population in the country yet. And very few of them are in official records, the census 2011 says 4 lakh plus then the election commission says only 40,000 people are registered. Special effort is the need of the hour. The invisibilization of the community at so many levels of data, the level of inclusion in the social security schemes, at the level of not reaching out during the times of crisis. All of this worsens the situation and there is a perpetual state of social discrimination and exclusion,” Meera raises serious concerns.

Hatred in the time of pandemic

In Hyderabad, posters are being put up saying that any contact with the transgenders will lead to coronavirus.

“If you talk to transgenders, you will get infected by coronavirus,” read these posters.

The posters also advised people to dial 100, if they found any transgender approach a shop.

Transgender activist Chandramukhi filed a police complaint after posters surfaced in various parts of Hyderabad.

“We complained to the police and it was removed, but then these are the issues that get lost in the whole ‘macro picture’,” Meera said.

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