- Trans people who would sustain by begging have no source of income
- Lack of family’s acceptance is a challenge for people from LGBTQ community
- Mr Kavi of The Humsafar Trust emphasises on the need for parental support
New Delhi: On an ordinary day, 26-year-old Zoya Thomas Lobo, a transgender living in Mumbai’s Bandra, would go from one local train to another, begging and earning a livelihood. Zoya also earns by working as a freelance journalist but her major source of income is the money she makes in the women’s compartments of Mumbai’s locals. However, with the Coronavirus outbreak, lockdown and the decline in economy, Zoya’s income has been hit hard. She says, “At the initial stage of the pandemic, I covered migrant labour protest in Bandra and for the first time I was recognised as a trans photo journalist. I have decided that instead of begging, I want to do a full-time job. But, now when my talent has been recognised, there is no job in the market. Even if we go for begging, we don’t make as much as we used to as coronavirus has impacted the economy as well and everyone is struggling to make ends meet.”
Zoya said that trans people who solely depend on begging in trains and at signals, weddings, ceremonies and public gatherings have lost all sources of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An individual from the trans community of Delhi’s Ajmeri Gate area resonated with Zoya’s experience and on the condition of anonymity told NDTV,
We would visit weddings to give our blessings, but since that has stopped, we have nowhere to turn to. We would also sustain ourselves by begging but that is no longer helping us. These past six months have been very difficult.
It’s not just the transgender people but the entire LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community has been impacted. Talking to NDTV about the challenges the LGTBQ community is facing especially during the pandemic, Ashok Row Kavi, founder and former chairman of The Humsafar Trust and Editor of Bombay Dost, said,
We must understand that mostly LGBT are more open in public places. Now being in a house that does not appreciate or accept your sexuality can be incredibly depressing and mental health issues are increasing. You cannot go out because of the lockdown and family won’t let you be yourself. There is stigma within a stigma in that sense, people from LGTBQ community are battling COVID and also its indirect impact – they have been thrown out of their rented places like in Dharavi and there is no business for trans people and sex workers which means no food.
Nazariya, a queer feminist resource group, that works towards affirming the rights of queer women and trans persons, told NDTV that their helpline number has been addressing double the number of calls. A PR counsellor from Nazariya said,
Before coronavirus, we would majorly get calls for the transition process or people seeking help in coming out to their family as a lesbian or a gay person. Now, the majority of the calls are of domestic violence, distress and how they don’t want to live with their family. Queer people in marriageable age are being pressurised to attend a virtual meet with prospective groom/bride. Other people from the community complain of family being extra nosy and vigilant and constantly throwing questions like ‘why are you wearing earrings’ and ‘why do you have long hair’. People are complaining of mental health issues arising out of constant questioning and surveillance. To address all the calls, we have hired two additional counsellors.
According to Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender activist and Chief of Kinnar Akhara, trans men and trans women are facing immense violence. Trans men, biologically born as women, are being raped and tortured. There is no shelter home for such people. Elaborating on the challenges, Laxmi Tripathi said,
If there is a business, people will give money to us in return of blessings and wishes. If the economy is stable, transgender people’s stomach will be filed. It is a complete circle. Right now, people don’t have money for food and rent.
In the recent past, the government had announced numerous schemes and financial aids to support marginalised communities. Talking about whether transgender community is a part of the relief bucket and how many have been actually benefitted, Laxmi Tripathi said,
5,000 people were given only Rs. 1,500 in four months. It is peanuts. In the rural areas, the condition is pathetic. People don’t get food for 10 days straight. They are drinking only water and having lai chana (puffed rice and roasted chana).
Another problem highlighted by Laxmi Tripathi is the lack of social distancing and hygiene practices among the community due to population density. Laxmi Tripathi believes that social distancing is for people belonging to upper socio economic strata and asked,
How do you do social distancing when 20 people live in one house? We don’t have big houses for everybody in the country. How will you ask people to quarantine when there is one bathroom in the house? People who don’t have money to buy food or pay rent, how will you ask them to buy sanitiser?
Laxmi Tripathi also noted that Manipur is the only state to have transgender dedicated quarantine facility.
NGOs Step Up To Support Marginalised Communities During Coronavirus Pandemic
Across India, various non-governmental organisations and individuals have lent support to marginalised communities. While executing COVID relief in the national capital, Wishes and Blessings, a Delhi based NGO, realised that there was no aid reaching the transgender community residing in Ajmeri Gate, Delhi. The team took it upon themselves to ensure that all their basic needs and requirements were met. Following this, a fund raiser was organised and a relief drive was carried out. As part of this relief drive, ration and essential supplies were distributed to 100 families belonging to the transgender community, to fill the gap that was created by the coronavirus crisis.
Similarly, three officers of the Indian Territorial Army, Major Pradeep Arya, Captain Neil Shaji and Major Sanjay Raole undertook the initiative to aid vulnerable groups, who lost their livelihood due to the pandemic. With the help of Mumbai Police, they distributed ration and hygiene kits in Kamathipura and Falkland areas of Mumbai, home to innumerable sex workers and transgender whose income is also earned daily, as these communities are particularly overlooked amid the crisis.
Identify, The World for Transgender, too lent a helping hand to hundreds of transgender by providing basic essential kits in Mumbai. Ankita Wagle, Founder of the initiative said,
The pandemic has affected the livelihood of every individual; it is equally challenging for anyone to lend a helping hand to the community at every given situation. Having said that, there are many people who have actively donated for gathering the basic commodities and safety kits like rice, dal, aata, oil, sugar, masks, sanitisers, among others for our transgender.
Team Kineer, an initiative by Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, also supported transgender community battling hunger by providing dry ration. But, according to the experts a lot needs to be done.
Protecting LGBTQ Community During Coronavirus Pandemic
Awareness is the key to break away from taboos and Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships (AMESA), Reckitt Benckiser echoes the same when it comes to supporting LGTBQ community. Speaking to NDTV, he said,
This is the right time to educate youth and adolescents on gender, gender norms, sexuality, about people who are from LGBTQ community. It should not be seen something very different. There are no safe spaces for LGBTQ population and this is the time to strengthen places which have been created under the national AIDS control programme.
55-year-old Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil who was a closeted gay for the 41 years of his life calls for parental support. Talking about how difficult was it for him to open up about his sexuality and why parental support is necessary, Mr Gohil said,
Being the first member of the royal family in the world to openly come out as gay was not just challenging but also going against the current. My effigies were burnt and my parents took out a newspaper advertisement publically disowning me from the family property. I still moved on because I had honesty and truthfulness with me and that paved way for me. But what the child need is love and affection from parents who have raised him/her. It is of utmost importance that instead of disrespecting their child, parents should be understanding and supportive.
Mr Kavi called for an all India movement: on parents supporting their children and said,
Parents support is vital because currently, it’s like a solitary prison. You are not allowed to go out and you can’t talk to anybody. There has to be some kind of socialisation.
Parents of Indian LGBTQ children have formed a support group called ‘Sweekar: The Rainbow Parents’ with the aim of supporting each other to accept one’s child fully and be happy as a family.
According to Mr Kavi, decriminalisation of Section 377 brought the community together but due to the pandemic, human rights of LGBTQ have been pushed back.
Before COVID-19, Reckitt Benckiser partnered with The Humsafar Trust with an aim to reach out to over 1 million LGBTQ people in India in three years. Talking about the partnership, Ravi Bhatnagar said,
We are supporting mental health, sexual health and sexual well-being and food security. We are seeing what can be done online and offline so that maximum people can be benefitted. If we can’t bring equality, we can focus on equity.
To further protect the trans community during pandemic, Ankita Wagle said,
They should have their own identity. Every transgender should be offered with some employment considering their skills and likings through which they can easily fulfil their needs rather than being dependent on the alms.
Laxmi Tripathi believes that currently, the three focus areas should be providing shelter, food, and medical assistance with dignity to everyone.
People might not die of COVID but they may die of hunger, said Laxmi Tripathi.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. 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 highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. 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 become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.