Members of the transgender community were left speechless when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared an unexpected lockdown to curb COVID-19 on March 24. A substantial number from the community is reliant on everyday income to help them survive. The lockdown and the resulting social boycott that came their way has only amplified a sense of fear amid the community. Relief measures commenced by the state government and support of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and political parties have warranted that they have managed to survive the lockdown. The community has gotten admiration for extending respite to the members of their neighborhood who are struggling for food. Their sturdy networks played a vital role in guaranteeing the accessibility of relief measures for the deprived.
‘Sudden lockdown left us marooned’ Sowmiya, a member of the community who lives in Porur near Chennai, was stunned when the countrywide lockdown was declared. “We all were shaken when the lockdown was declared. Everybody, including members of the community, were improvised for it. The government did not give anybody time to purchase essentials for subsistence. All of us were left speechless with the sudden declaration,” recollected Sowmiya. Sowmiya and hundreds of fellow transgenders from Porur, Mangadu and Poonamallee in the borders of Chennai, gather money from shops in the neighborhood for their survival. She lives in a rented house with a friend and they pay a rent of Rs 8,000 per month. Sowmiya is also a performer with the Kattiyakari drama group.
‘Community network assisted relief work’ “We managed to pay rent for April by borrowing cash and because of contributions from sympathizers. Our subsequent task is to find money to pay lease for the month of May. As our subsistence depends only on assistance from NGOs, it is hard to manage the rents,” Sowmiya added. The government of Tamil Nadu declared relief of Rs 1,000 to transgender folks via welfare boards. “Members of the community owning identity cards issued by the government were supported with cash and rations. It facilitated them in overcoming the lockdown. The ID cards issued by the government came in handy for retrieving relief measures”, said Srijith Sundaram, an LGBTQ activist. However, relief was much lesser than what the community actually needed. “I am a diabetic and I could not afford medications during the lockdown. Lots of senior members of the community continue to struggle as they cannot meet their medical requirements at the moment. The government has to do more in such a calamity. We cannot decease of starvation and because of the lack of medical care,” said Sowmiya.
‘Social Exclusion Continues’ The number of transgender individuals infested by the novel coronavirus is less than a handful, but the community continues to encounter social humiliation. “When we visit shops for medications or other essentials, individuals feel uncomfortable. It appears as if they believe that transgender folks are blamable for spreading the infection, while the truth is the exact reverse,” Sowmiya added. Those that had gone through sexual reassignment surgery are also affected because of a deficiency of healthy food. “Individuals who have gone through the surgery require nutritious food for at least 40 days. With the lockdown coming out of the blue and obstructing their sources of income, they are suffering enormously and it might affect their health in the future too,” said Srijith. Notwithstanding their own anguish, the community has stood up in prolonging relief to the affected folks in their neighborhood. They even shared relief materials that they got with individuals left with no revenue during the lockdown.
‘Community Extends Relief’ Eleven Muslim families from Andhra Pradesh had been deserted in the Porur area. Called ‘Fakirs’, they earn their living from visiting shops and carrying out puja. Nearly 40 members of these families, who did not have ID cards to take delivery of relief measures, got support from the community. Keerthana, a transgender individual who works as a sanitary administrator in Puducherry, has been doing her bit to feed the sanitation employees. “Transgender individuals from Porur inquired us to help the deserted individuals in their neighborhood. With the assistance of supporters, we managed to dole out rations and other fundamentals to them,” added Srijith. The marginalized section of the society scuffles to survive the lockdown while continuing to encounter social humiliation. Trans-men, in a minority in the community, require more attention from the government on welfare measures. The growth of training for self-employment, reservations in employment by the government and altering the public view of the community are the need of the hour to assist the community in coping with the unprecedented condition.