“The society has now gone into isolation, so they’re worried. This is not new for us when it was told on TV to get isolated; we are already living in isolation. Nobody befriends me. Take your example, if you are sitting in a cafe, I come and meet you as a friend, you’ll avoid me and would say that you only went to take an interview. You would never accept me in society as a friend and wouldn’t ask me how I am doing.”, says Transgender rights activist Julie Khan. The transgender and hijra community is the most marginalized and less talked about community in our society. Substantiating, ‘the most marginalized’ because it has been subjected to structural discrimination, exclusion, and violence for years; ‘less talked about’ evidently as though being a population of about 4,90,000 (2014) in India, they couldn’t secure a place in the government’s 20 crore relief package.
Quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic was severe for most of us. The trans or hijra community has been living without a home, enough food, family, friends, jobs, and education. Sympathy is not precisely what is expected, but sensitivity is. Because when the world was busy talking about the effects of the pandemic on the poor, the middle-class, the industries, and the economy – this group of people went unnoticed. They have been severely affected.
The majority of members of the community depend on begging or sex work to earn a living. As their livelihood majorly depends on social interaction, the lockdown shut all doors of income for them. Food supply depleting and no savings to pay rent, they were financially hit. According to reports, many didn’t have enough water to wash hands and clothes. In a state of crisis like this, affording sanitizers and masks is unfeasible for them. The authorities seem to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Hijra community. Kerela is the only state to announce 1000 relief kits for them. Some Non-Government Organizations also distributed masks and sanitizer. Still, the use of it is uncertain due to a lack of information on its use, importance, and other measures to be taken. Proper guidance in the vernacular language is required.
Talking about medical facilities, this already vulnerable community finds it difficult to access basic amenities in our societal system. Discrimination against primary healthcare is prevalent. During the pandemic, when the medical infrastructure is already overpressurized, testing, and getting treatment of people belonging to the community is tough. The wards are divided into male-female binaries, having no centre for trans-men and women. Trans lives lost due to coronavirus are nowhere in records and couldn’t find its place in media. Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, assistant professor at Jamia Hamdard Hospital, New Delhi, says, “Most trans people have lower levels of immunity”. Trans who are HIV positive have no access to ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) during the pandemic as the medical system is already under pressure. They are more susceptible to contract the virus.
Many who have undergone sex reassignment surgery aren’t able to get hormones due to disruption in production and supply chains during the lockdown. The problems don’t end here. A number of trans live in hostile families. A total lockdown can make them more prone to physical and mental violence. The experience can be draining, torturing, and dreadful.
With the pandemic affecting them physically and mentally, the only solution that the government had for its people was social distancing. But it’s crucial to understand that social distancing is a privilege. A privilege that a lot of people, including the poor and the hijras, can not afford. They live in congested areas. A large part of the hijra community resides in slums and chawls of Mumbai. These places are the hotbeds of coronavirus. Lack of adequate documents is also a problem that deprives them of the facilities provided to others. According to census 2014, there are 4.9 lakh trans in India, and only 10% of them have voter IDs.
The trans and hijra community often portrayed as characters of humor in movies and shows authenticates the society’s insensitivity. This insensitive behavior was quite evident when hate posters were put in Hyderabad against transgender people amid the pandemic. “If you talk to transgenders, you’ll get infected by coronavirus” read the posters. The crisis that the world is facing right now has been there for them forever – isolation. The community is looking at the authorities with gleaming eyes expecting to be heard. They are getting deep silence in return. Society doesn’t just make them fill ‘others’ while choosing their identity, but also makes them feel they’re ‘others’.
Image Source – Deccan Herald