Structural inequities in the socio-economic landscape of India drive extreme marginalisation of the LGBTQIA+ communities in the country. A lack of social, political, and institutional acceptance and awareness manifests itself as violence and discrimination experienced by these communities at every stage of their life- in schools, at home, at the workplace, and in public spaces. The first study on the human rights of transgenders by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2018 notes that 96 per cent transgenders are denied jobs and are forced to take low-paying or undignified work. The study further reports that 52 per cent of transgenders were harassed by their classmates while 15 per cent were harassed by teachers, forcing them to eventually discontinue education.
Access To And Impact On Health
With limited livelihood opportunities and existing discrimination, transgenders are marginalised not only from an identity but also from a livelihood perspective. The NHRC study also indicates that 23 per cent transgenders engage in sex work which has high health-related risks and results in trans people being 49 times more at risk of living with HIV compared to the general population. Another critical issue is the prevalence of illegal gender-affirming surgeries taking place at government hospitals. There is a lack of knowledge and skills in performing gender-affirming procedures. As a result, individuals seeking gender-affirming surgeries often face substandard care, with no facility providing necessary receipts or documents to validate their medical procedures. This lack of professionalism and accountability further compounds the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in accessing quality healthcare.
Migration, An Escape
While the Pride Movement has come a long way in urban India, what remains unchanged, among many issues, is the forced migration of the queer community from rural to urban geographies due to low social acceptance, homelessness on account of forced eviction, extreme violence at home and a lack of livelihood opportunities. Migration to urban areas provides an escape to a different reality where livelihood options include begging and sex work while the agency continues to be challenged with multiple and complex layers of normative socio-economic constructs. Limited awareness, information, and freedom to express oneself also restrict the spectrum of identities that the queer community is exposed to. This often leads to challenges in exploring one’s own true identity, additionally leading to an adverse impact on mental health, well-being, agency and socio-economic security.
Barriers To Participation
Chandni identifies as a transwoman and leads a community-owned non-profit ‘Payana’. In her experience, language acts as a barrier to participation in the predominantly English-speaking Pride Movement in urban cities which by default impacts the representation of the less visible queer identities such as the Jogappas* and Double Decker** in the Movement. The class also acts as a barrier to participation, especially for individuals struggling to meet their basic needs on a daily basis. For socio-economically deprived persons, participation in a movement where they don’t understand the language and are unable to afford related expenses of dressing up and the entry fees for events are barriers.
Caste Identity And Discrimination
The hierarchy of oppression within the queer community is also dictated by issues of gender, caste, ethnicity, religion, geography, and class. These intersectional identities compound the degree of marginalisation experienced by LGBTQIA + communities in formal and informal settings. For example, the freedom of a queer individual assigned female at birth is easily challenged by existing gender norms where it is easier to ignore the autonomy of a biologically assigned female in comparison to a male.
Discrimination is even more grievous for historically marginalised social groups such as Dalits who are Queer. The inability to access safe housing for a Dalit Queer individual assigned female at birth is further exacerbated by a greater fear of sexual abuse and violence over and above challenges such as access to shelter, job opportunities, legal services, and medical care.
Supporting Grassroots Communities
Grassroots organisations such as Payana, are led and managed by members of the Jogappas, Double Decker and Kothis***. While these organisations focus on developing leadership from marginalised communities, they also face an additional disadvantage of language barriers while accessing funding that is sensitive to their causes and issues. This only adds to the burden of grassroots leaders, who already face a significant degree of separation and trust deficit from the funding community.
Within the larger LGBTQIA+ community, leadership development and agency building of members is a gap area that needs urgent support and attention, especially in the context of diverse queer identities that are culturally entrenched. Flexible funding to grassroots NGOs, that supports more than just programmatic support can play a critical role in enabling such growth and development of grassroots organisations as well as the overall representation of diverse communities. Without engagement and support,
Marginalised LGBTQIA+ communities facing intersectional challenges of socio-economic status are being left behind in the race for sustainability. Recognising and understanding their unique vulnerabilities, articulated in their own voices is critical to building pathways out of marginalisation and a looming health crisis within the community.
*Jogappas are marginalised individuals who serve as devotees or ‘servants’ of the goddess Renukha Devi (Yellamma) in Maharashtra and Karnataka, typically in the form of male servants.
**Double-deckers refer to individuals within the Kothi/Hijra community who engage in both receptive and penetrative sexual roles, including interactions with women. This term, recently introduced, recognizes them as a distinct subgroup due to their versatile sexual behaviors. While some Double-deckers may primarily identify as Kothis, the term “Double-decker” can be viewed as an additional label, highlighting their nuanced expressions of femininity, which may not always be readily apparent.
***Kothis refer to a diverse group of biological males who exhibit different levels of femininity, often situationally. They can have bisexual behaviors, marry women, and some may engage in sex work for survival. While some Hijra-identified individuals may also identify as Kothis, not all Kothi-identified people consider themselves transgender or Hijras.
(This article has been authored by Chandni, Secretary and Founding member, Payana and Ustati Gujral, Team Leader, Rebuild India Fund.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the authors.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.