Members of the transgender community were left stunned when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a sudden lockdown to contain COVID-19 on March 24. A significant number from the community are dependent on daily income to help them get by. The lockdown and the resultant social boycott that came their way has only increased a sense of fear among the community. Relief measures undertaken by the state government and support of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and political parties have ensured that they have managed to survive the lockdown.
The community has received praise for extending relief to the members of their neighbourhood who are struggling for food. Their strong networks played a vital role in ensuring the availability of relief measures for the disadvantaged.
‘Sudden lockdown left us stranded’
Sowmiya, a member of the community who lives in Porur near Chennai, was shocked when the nationwide lockdown was announced.
“We all were shocked when the lockdown was announced. Everyone, including members of the community were unprepared for it. The government did not give anyone time to buy essentials for survival. All of us were left dumbfounded with the sudden announcement,” recalled Sowmiya.
Sowmiya and hundreds of fellow transgenders from Porur, Mangadu and Poonamallee in the outskirts of Chennai, collect money from shops in the neighbourhood for their living. 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 troupe.
‘Community network helped relief work’
“We managed to pay rent for April by borrowing money and due to contributions from well-wishers. Our next task is to find money to pay rent for the month of May. As our survival depends only on relief from NGOs, it is tough to make rents,” Sowmiya added.
The government of Tamil Nadu announced relief of Rs 1,000 to transgender persons through welfare boards. “Members of the community possessing identity cards issued by the government were assisted with cash and rations. It helped them in overcoming the lockdown. The ID cards issued by the government came in handy for accessing relief measures", said Srijith Sundaram, an LGBTQ activist.
However, relief was much lesser than what the community required. “I am a diabetic and I could not afford medicines during the lockdown. Many senior members of the community continue to struggle as they cannot meet their medical needs at the moment. The government needs to do more in such a crisis. We cannot die of starvation and due to the lack of medical attention,” said Sowmiya.
‘Social Exclusion Continues’
The number of transgender persons infected by the novel coronavirus is less than a handful, but the community continues to face social stigma. “When we visit shops for medicines or other essentials, people feel awkward. It seems as if they believe that transgender persons are responsible for spreading the disease, whereas the truth is the exact opposite,” Sowmiya added.
Those that had undergone sexual reassignment surgery are also affected due to a lack of healthy food. “People who have undergone the surgery need nutritious food for at least 40 days. With the lockdown coming out of the blue and choking their sources of income, they are suffering a lot and it may affect their health in the future as well,” said Srijith.
In spite of their own suffering, the community has stood up in extending relief to the affected people in their neighbourhood. They even shared relief materials that they received with people left with no income during the lockdown.
‘Community Extends Relief’
Eleven Muslim families from Andhra Pradesh had been stranded in the Porur region. Called ‘Fakirs’, they earn their living from visiting shops and performing puja. Close to 40 members of these families, who did not have identity cards to receive relief measures, received help from the community.
Keerthana, a transgender person who works as sanitary supervisor in Puducherry, has been doing her bit to feed the sanitation workers. “Transgender persons from Porur asked us to help the stranded people in their neighbourhood. With the help of patrons we managed to distribute rations and other essentials to them,” added Srijith.
The marginalised section of the society struggles to survive the lockdown while continuing to face social stigma. Trans-men, in a minority within the community, need more attention from the government on welfare measures. The expansion of training for self employment, reservations in employment by the government and changing the public perception of the community are the need of the hour to help the community cope with the unprecedented situation.