Appeal For Immediate Measures For The Transgender Community In India To Deal With The COVID-19 Pandemic
This appeal was written with the help of individuals from the transgender community in India and is directed at the Chief Ministers of States and Union Territories of India and Member Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority; Health Ministers of States and Union Territories of India.
Over the last few months, the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has overwhelmed healthcare systems across the world. In India, the lockdown that began on 25 March 2020 to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 has aggravated the social and financial vulnerability of marginalised communities, including the transgender community. Yet, the Central Government makes no mention of the transgender community with respect to the relief package that was announced on 26 March 2020.
According to the 2011 Census there are 488,000 individuals across India who identify as transgender. However, besides being a dated assessment of the population, this figure does not indicate the actual population of transgender persons. It is widely believed by activists working with the transgender community, that the population is likely to be much higher considering that many transgender persons do not disclose their identity due to the systemic discrimination, social stigma, violence and/or harassment faced by them.
Like millions of other Indians, a majority of the individuals belonging to this community are reliant on unorganized work, including daily wage work. Some of the work that transgender persons rely on requires social interaction which is impossible under the current circumstances presented by the pandemic and the lockdown. The pre-existing absence of social and economic security has adversely affected the community’s access to other essential services due to restricted access to financial resources during this critical time.
People of the community often face stigma when accessing healthcare. Either they are denied treatment at hospitals or if treated, they are attended to in a discriminatory manner. During a pandemic like the current one, such situations are more pronounced as the healthcare system is under immense pressure. Similarly, the community faces difficulty in accessing housing and accommodation due to societal stigma, discrimination and lack of financial security.
We appreciate the efforts of the Kerala Government to provide rations to 1000 transgender persons as well as allocate five accommodation facilities for the community. However, representatives and activists from the community are not sure if the community will be given the benefits under the relief package announced by the Central Government.
Owing to the institutional bias that the community has faced for centuries and their heightened susceptibility and vulnerability during this present lockdown, we make this urgent plea to the Central and State Governments to ensure that the following measures and more, are taken:
1. Access to Food: The governments must ensure access to the food rations under the Public Distribution System as well as additional rations as promised by the Finance Minister on 26 March 2020. We urge that inability to provide documentation must not be made grounds for denying ration. We also recommend that vehicles be made available at the district level to enable the delivery of food rations to remote areas of each state.
2. Access to Cash Transfers: As many transgender individuals rely on a daily income, the loss of livelihood is an issue that the community is currently facing in this lockdown. We, therefore, urge the government to ensure that cash transfers are made to the community without prejudice, irrespective of identity documentation. It is recommended that the government direct nationalised banks to enable the registration of members of the transgender community at these banks, in order to process cash transfers.
3. Access to Medical Services: HIV prevalence among hijra/transgender population group is the second highest across all population groups. As such, they require Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) on a monthly basis. Currently, with ART drugs being used for treatment of COVID-19, the government should ensure that these medicines are easily available to trans persons who are HIV+. The police should ensure that individuals do not face harassment while travelling to collect their medication. Additionally, in case of treatment, the government should ensure that individuals are not harassed and denied treatment at the hospital.
4. Sanitation essentials: During this critical time when proper sanitation facilities are crucial in order to keep clean and prevent infection, access to running water, soap, masks and hand sanitizers must be made available. Many members of the community face stigma and discrimination and are not financially secure to access these facilities. The government must provide the aforementioned items free of cost, preferably from existing delivery channels such as Anganwadi centers and hospitals among others.
5. Accommodation: The government must ensure that transgender persons are not forced to vacate their rental accommodations due to their inability to pay rent. The state governments must also make arrangements for specific accommodation with food, water and sanitation facilities dedicated to members of the community, especially during this pandemic. It is recommended that state governments pass an order to landlords for the moratorium on rent payment for at least three months.
6. Access to Documentation: As discussed above, access to documentation is a critical problem that the community faces. The government should not allow the lack of documentation to be a hindrance to the access of services. Furthermore, any information that is provided by individuals to avail the aforementioned benefits must be completely de-linked from the exercises of National Population Register and National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
We make this urgent appeal to the Central and State governments for curbing the detrimental and devastating effects of COVID-19 and protecting the transgender community in India.
 HIV Sentinel Surveillance 2016-17, December 2017, National Aids Control Organisation, GoI.
You can download the appeal here.
Featured image credit: PTI