By the time we get documents to get supplies, we'll be dead: How India's Transgenders have been hit by lockdown

Most transgender persons do not have government ID proofs like Aadhaar, DL, Passport, PAN, Ration, Voter ID cards and end up getting excluded even out of Food Security despite the Food Security Act  
The transgender community in Thoothukudi
The transgender community in Thoothukudi

The lockdown due to Coronavirus has pushed many oppressed communities to the brink - transgenders are one of them. A large number of the members of the community especially from the underprivileged communities turn to begging and sex work to make their money and now with the lockdown, they have no way to fend for themselves.

"In the cities, some transgenders beg or do sex work but in the rural areas most just beg. And during this time, nobody can go to their homes. There was no allotment of any funds by Nirmala Sitharaman, the Ministry of Social Justice allowed some funds but that is going to take forever. what will we do till them? What do we do about immediate needs? Grace Banu, a transgender activist asks. Grace, who is based in Chennai, was in Thoothukudi, her hometown, when the lockdown was announced. Which is why she has been able to coordinate and help the transgender community in Thoothukudi to a certain extent and is currently running a fundraising campaign online as well.

"I just happened to be here. So when I saw that we had no way to get groceries, I reached out to the District Collector. They told me to use ration cards to get the supplies but I told him that most transgenders don't have their cards. So they bought us some groceries. But that's only because I was there, not all districts have an activist who can help the transgender community there," she explained. Even though the government has made arrangements for the transgender community, the process to acquire the funds would be to submit their ration cards and other identification proof, which many have still not been able to acquire. Most transgender persons do not have government ID proofs like Aadhaar, DL, Passport, PAN, Ration, Voter ID cards and end up getting excluded even out of Food Security despite the Food Security Act and/or any other social welfare schemes of the state and central governments.

Grace Banu

With government documents and procedures still inaccessible to members of the community and discrimination continuing to exist in different levels of governance, transgenders don't stand much of a chance of getting the funds at this point. "Even though there is a chance that they have Aadhaar cards and ration cards almost nobody has them," she added.

Is there an immediate solution? "The government should know this and they have to make alternate arrangements. Just like how I was able to go speak to the district collector here, they should be able to talk to each other and ensure the transgender community gets all that they need. They should educate other officials," she explained. 

Grace also pointed out that there are various transgenders who have conditions like diabetes, high BP etc who need to go to the hospital to get their medication, "Many might have low immunity and they would have to go to a hospital where they would be more susceptible to catching the virus. Should the government not make these medicines available to them in this situation," she questioned.

Grace also said that with fewer stores and shops open, transgenders also risk a higher chance of discrimination. The other worry is that most transpeople are disowned or abandoned by their families, so during this period they have no one to depend on but themselves. "At least during this lockdown, people have the opportunity to go home and depend on their family members even if they are stuck or penniless. But most of us don't have families to go back to. Also, a lot of us stay together, so if the government is giving only 10 kgs for a family of 4-5, what will people like us do? Where 25 of us are living together?" she asked.

"Our needs are increasing every single day. We don't have soaps, sanitisers. Each time we have to beg, create sympathy and ask for some kind of charity. Every single time. After all the awareness drives we conduct, still we are not included in society. We are ready to stay home but who will bring us food?" she added. 

Another part of the community that is devastated by this lockdown is those affected by HIV, "They need medicines and I have people living with me who will run out of medicines in the next few days. The nearest ARP centre is Tirunelveli, the district head office, how will we travel there to get the medicines?" Grace avers. 

Grace asks why other corporates and foundations are not helping the community, "We can't really depend on the government. Because by the time, we get our documents in order and submit them and avail the benefits, it'll be too late. The supplies will only reach when we become corpses," she says. 

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