midst the coronavirus lockdown, the transgender community is facing battles of survival on various front. The coronavirus-induced lockdown has hit the transgender community very hard, with the closure of public spaces and cancellation of wedding events leading to a loss in their earnings. Little support from the government has further pushed them to the brink. Alms, donations and begging is the only source of their income. The government has completely forgotten about the transgender community who are facing worst condition after the lockdown. Since a 21-day official lockdown was imposed in India beginning 23rd March to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, the lives of these people have been impacted in varying degrees. The common population is at least living with their families and they are taken care by one or the other. Government rendered help to many migrants, slum people but this particular community got completely ignored. For the transgender community, coming down to main stream population and standing with them is just a dream because there is still no social acceptance for them and they are shunted and humiliated on various occasions. Though the notion that the country is coming together to fight this pandemic is being adopted and celebrated, the fact is that such a notion stems from both a place of privilege and a narrow-minded perception of the world. Shelter, food, money, access to information and basic safety measures though may seem essential but are not within the reach of all citizens, especially this community. The worst affected are those who belong to the lower below poverty line sections of society, daily-wage earners, migrant workers and the homeless. Also, part of this group is India’s transgender community which continues to exist on the boundaries of the social order and is defenseless to poverty and health hazards.
This community is dependent on traditional livelihoods, such as sex work, badhai (offering blessings at weddings and other festivities) and begging. Today Hijras and intersex people are hard to miss. Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated in makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections knocking on car windows with the edge of a coin and offering blessings. They dance at temples. They crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of rupees. Imagine, when all this halts for months. Some of them are starved to death. Hijra is considered physically and psychologically uncertain and because of ambivalence people consider them freaks (hiding their sexual identity). They are physically, verbally, and sexually abused. Hijras have been stigmatized and marginalized to a large extent. Thus, from the ancient India to the present day, Indian society made a distinction between Hijra and predefined gender category. The term Hijra encompasses a wide range of identities, appearances, and behaviors that blur and cross the biological gender lines in India. We might talk about evolution, law in their favor, social acceptance and blah blah, but the fact remains unchanged that they are always neglected and sidelined community. Their vulnerabilities, frustrations, and insecurities have been always overlooked by mainstream society. Therefore, they are a marginalized and stigmatized community. The mainstream society does not understand their culture, gender, mentality, and sexuality. Dimensions of their social deprivation and harassment rendered to them have never received attention in the developed society. There are many myths, legends, rituals, religious roles and themes in Hinduism which entertain the notion of “sexually ambiguous” or dual gender manifestations. We are bothered about starving stray animals, birds, poor people, travelers, migrants and also those cops, doctors and beyond all even the zoo animals, but what we conveniently ignore is this community simply because we never accept them as normal human beings.
Many Indians believe Hijras have the power to bless or curse, and they trade off this uneasy contradiction. People believe that they can create their bread, because they have powers but in reality, they are the worst hit by this pandemic and subsequent lockdown. The red-light areas are closed, shops are shut, weddings and other forms of celebration stand cancelled. All their sources of incomes have shut down. The trans community lives have come to halt, but hope presents itself through welfare initiatives but no government or social organizations has given them preference or priority. They are trapped in the multiple loaning systems, either for their daily needs or for gender transition procedures etc. The money is usually borrowed not from banks but private money lenders. Now, the money they would use to pay back these loans has stopped coming in. One of the current concerns facing the community, the one that has been an issue for centuries now is the discrimination as well as denial of basic rights by both the government and society at large. The effects of ostracisation are exacerbated during a pandemic. The risk of the virus spreading and being exposed to it is increased because of their living conditions. Mostly, the Hijras live in groups of three to four in cramped spaces, in close proximity. Because Landlords don’t rent their homes out to trans people as nobody wants a trans person living in their neighborhood. As a result, when they do eventually find accommodation, they end up paying a much higher price than general people on average, about Rs 5,000 – 6,000 more. They can’t afford to pay such high rent. Moreover, their landlords are nagging them because they too need the money. Those who live in slums don’t even have proper rent agreements, which means that their daily existence is like walking a tightrope. Added to this is the poor infrastructure of such spaces. They are restricted to being in small, dingy rooms with no proper ventilation. They can’t use fans or air conditioners during the summer, because they can’t afford them. Many don’t have smartphones and are cut off from the outside world so invariably all this affects their physical, mental health and overall wellness. Many don’t have documents like a Ration card or Aadhaar card. Since the passing of the Transgender Persons Bill (2019) in Parliament, the community has faced many hurdles in the process of obtaining identity proof for themselves. Even reaching out for help is often difficult because they are looked at with fear and derision. There are a lot of mohalla lunches being organised in cities, but Hijras are very hesitant to attend them because they fear they will be harassed and won’t be treated properly.
Their living conditions and the nature of their profession exposes Hijras to conditions like tuberculosis and HIV among others. While some cannot travel to buy medicines for these conditions, others simply don’t have the money to afford them. Those who are HIV+ need to get their ART (anti-retroviral therapy) medication every month, but doctors and medical experts presently aren’t available to address their healthcare concerns. Not to mention that there is stigma and discrimination in the healthcare system as well. There are no specialized beds for trans people, they are either put into a male or female ward. Even if they do think they have symptoms of COVID-19, they know they have nowhere to go.
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