COVID-19 and the plight of the transgender community

Published : April 29, 2020 18:17 IST

Transgender people maintaining social distancing as they wait for food distribution in Hyderabad on April 29. Photo: NOAH SEELAM/ AFP

Highlighting the plight of the transgender community, Amnesty International said: “As the world comes together, India’s transgender community fights COVID-19 alone.” This structurally discriminated group has been rendered even more marginalised under the double jolt of the disease and social distancing. At least one transgender person has died from the virus in Indore and many more are suffering from starvation. Posters were reportedly stuck in Hyderabad warning people not to talk to transgenders in case they contract the coronavirus. This led to housing complexes asking transgenders to vacate their rented accommodation. Facing intensified stigma and transphobia under the pandemic, they have written to the Ministry of Finance, Home Affairs and Social Justice & Empowerment (MoSJE) urging immediate assistance.

“While, as citizens, we fully appreciate the gravity of the health pandemic and are co-operating in public interest, we would like you to take appropriate and urgent measures to mitigate the serious impact of the lockdown on the livelihoods, food security and health of lakhs of transgender people across the country,” a letter signed by more than 2,000 people said.

Since most transgenders are daily-wage earners forced to subsist on begging and sex work, social distancing has hit them hard. A large number of them do not have basic documentation, including Aadhaar, ration card, voter ID or bank account in their self-identified name and gender and therefore remain outside the coverage of government social security schemes like rations and pensions, making it impossible to survive in these difficult times of lockdown.

Further, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, in contravention of the 2014 NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) judgment, laid out a “vague bureaucratic procedure to be followed for legal gender recognition and does not allow transgender persons to self-identify themselves,” according to Amnesty.

A transgender person pointed out that the non-availability of suitable ID cards should not be used to deny them welfare benefits. The National Institute of Social Defense, which comes under the MoSJE, provided Rs.1,500 to around 4,500 trans persons from different States when some transgenders approached the government for help. But it is a drop in the ocean. There are at least 4.88 lakh trans persons in India according to the 2011 Census.

Apart from the Kerala government, no State had thought to secure the rights of the transgenders even as they promised assistance to other vulnerable sections of the population. Even the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, announced by the Finance Minister, did not make any reference to the transgender community. “This is an invisibilisation of us, even amidst a lockdown,” a trans person said.

Considering the acute hardships being faced by the transgender community, they demanded an assured subsistence income of at least Rs.3,000 per month to each transgender until the pandemic got over. They also requested the universalisation of the public distribution system to ensure food security to all needy citizens including transgenders with monthly rations kits.

“Issue an order mandating that no transgender person shall be forced to pay rent or face eviction by their house owners for non-payment of rent during the period of lockdown. Ensure uninterrupted supply of all essential medication to trans persons including ART medicines, tuberculosis care and treatment, hormone therapy and other gender affirming procedures. We sincerely hope you will appreciate that the state has a primary responsibility as well as capacity to safeguard the rights of the community across the country especially in times of such a grave medico-health pandemic. This would also be in keeping with the spirit of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in NALSA vs UoI (14th April, 2014) and obligations of the state, thereunder as well as under Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” said the letter, authored by Grace Banu, Meera Sanghamitra, Karthik Bittu Kondaiah and Rachana Mudraboyina.