The Transgender community has been an ignored community during the COVID-19 Lockdown. They have not been provided with any social safety net and welfare measures by the central government during the current Lockdown. The livelihood of transgender people depends on interaction with the people and, social distancing has cut off the transgender community from all such social interaction. The Transgender people face stigma and discrimination from their families and are often outcasts banished from their families. Hence, due to the national lockdown, the transgender community who rely on begging and sex work have no means for livelihood and no homes for shelter. The Government needs to come up with welfare measures to sustain the lives of the transgender community in India. According to the 2011 census, more than 487,803 lakh transgenders live in India.
The Transgender Rights Bill 2019 was passed by the Parliament last year. The well-intentioned bill envisaged an India which will be a better place for the Transgender community, a community which has been subjected to a history of persecution. The bill requires the transgender people to apply to the government for legal gender recognition and this compulsion rests the state of the transgender community in the hands of the government. While this step is helpful to some extent in terms of providing legal protection to the transgender people, little has been done to ensure employment, education and medical care for the transgender community.
Little has been done to sensitise the citizens, especially the impactful sections such as healthcare professionals and young students towards the plight of the transgender community. The Government needs to play an active role in increasing the empathy of citizens towards the fact that a human being, irrespective of his/her gender identity and sexual orientation, deserves to be treated with equality and dignity. If we deny the trans community of dignity and equality because of their stigmatised occupation, we are participating in a discriminatory discourse from a position of privilege and this should not be the case in an egalitarian society.
Transgenders are more prone to infections due to lower immunity system in their bodies and hence they are at a greater risk of being infected by COVID-19. According to National Centre for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Trans adults are also more likely to rate their health as a poor or fair in comparison to others. More than 1 out of 5 transgender adults have at least one or more chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis or asthma. Healthcare professionals need to be sensitive to the reduced immune system in Trans people.
Transgender people are robbed of their source of income due to the current lockdown and the government needs to step in by providing trans people with financial support. Since the community is not able to get their livelihood through public dependent work like begging and performing in social gathering, they need to be provided with free food supply by the government. The government also needs to arrange for housing facility for transgender people. Transgender people are currently taking shelter in overcrowded places, which are likely to be centres of the COVID-19 transmission.
An innovative step that the government can take up right now during the current lockdown is conducting online classes on gender sensitivity for school students. Children, in their formative years, are more likely to learn empathy towards sexual minorities, in comparison to socially conditioned adults.
The government needs to open up employment opportunities for the Trans community and diversify the scope for bringing different skills to the table. We must ensure that in the future, trans people are educated and qualified enough to be able to take up jobs in which they can work remotely and do not have to depend on begging or entertaining the public. Formal education and skill development need to be channelized for the transgender community so that, next time, when there is a national lockdown, their survival does not get endangered.
Manjima Misra is the author of two books: Unapologetically Mad and Indian Feminine Fury. She has studied English literature at University of Delhi and will be pursuing her masters in gender studies.)