Problems mount for trans people during Covid-19 lockdown
As reports about the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) began to make their way into news cycles in February, malicious posters began appearing at bus stops and railway stations in Hyderabad that blamed transgender people for the spread of the virus.
While no one knew who printed these posters, their content was disturbing. The posters said HIV-positive transgender people were spreading the virus, and that they ought to be stoned.
Transgender activist Vyjayanti Vasantha Mogli said the posters created fear among many people of the community. The only added to the troubles that transgender people already face, she said.
As the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown continues, several members of the community said the livelihoods of hundreds of transgender people remain disrupted, with many struggling for their daily needs. Many are worried they will be thrown out by landlords if they are unable to pay rent. And transgender people who are HIV-positive are complaining about difficulty in accessing critical medicines.
Cuttack-based transwoman Meghna said food was running out for many members of the community in the state. “Around 70% of the community in Odisha is dependent on begging or sex work, and it is rare that a transperson has savings to fall back on,” she said.
Non-governmental organisations and community networks are providing support but that, she said, isn’t enough. “The government needs to provide for us,” she said.
R Subrahmanyam, secretary of the ministry of social justice and welfare, said that before the lockdown, the ministry asked 25-odd organisations working for the welfare of the transgender community to identify people with financial constraints. He said 5,000 people were given Rs 1,500 as assistance.
“We have also said that, in case, there is anyone looking for more assistance, they need to get in touch with these organisations, who will [work] with us for help,” said Subrahmanyam.
Problems have been exacerbated for those who are HIV-positive and need monthly doses of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) medicines. Mogli said while some don’t have access to medicines, others are facing the problem of having to come out as HIV-positive to caregivers.
In addition to that, HIV treatment is only provided by the government to those who are registered with authorities. For those without a valid medical record, said Hyderabad-based Harshini Mekala, a simple HIV test can help. “The test takes about three hours to show if a person is HIV-positive,” said Mekala.
Grace Bano, who lives in Tuticorin, said that most transgender people benefiting from social schemes are based in urban areas.
“Several transgender people, including those who are HIV-positive, are suffering in villages. We had to run a campaign to reach out to 250 people in Tamil Nadu alone,” she said.
An HIV-positive transwoman living in Mumbai, who is a volunteer with the government and has arranged doses for a few months from the ART centre for those registered with the government, said on condition of anonymity: “For those from states who had to stay back in other states they were visiting, there is no availability of medicines.”
Amit Kumar of the All India Sex Workers Network, a collective representing more than 500,000 sex workers, said transgender sex workers are more vulnerable.
“Access to social schemes is more limited for them,” he said, adding some people in the network rely on the monthly grant of Rs 500 in their Jan Dhan accounts. The network had written to the National AIDS Control Organisation for assistance, especially for those from the trans-community.
The HIV-positive transwoman in Mumbai said that in her area, only 70 out of the 500-odd transgender people have managed to get funds from the social justice ministry, and some are relying on Jan Dhan accounts for sustenance.
Mogli said in several states, different schemes help transgender people in different ways. But several schemes require proof of identity. “Several people have papers prior to their coming out, and these papers are in a different name and of a different sex,” she said.
She said among the steps the government needs to take is a rent moratorium for a few months for the community so that they aren’t thrown out of rented accommodation. “The government should also provide rations and cash for those in the community who are starving,” she added.
Ayushman Bharat too must provide cover for Covid-19, especially for transgender people, she said. For states such as Telangana, which do not implement the Central scheme, state welfare measures should provide cover, she added.