Eviction Fear Heightens as Lockdown Signals Loss of Livelihood for Transgender People

Activists have said that less than one percent of transgender people have received the Rs 1,500 promised by the National Institute of Social Defence.

Hyderabad: The unprecedented lockdown forced by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many sections of people, but one of the worst-affected, the transgender community, has received little attention.

A group of over 2,182 transgender activists have now appealed to the home, finance and social justice and empowerment ministries for essential help.

They pointed out that less than one percent of them have received a sum of Rs 1,500 from the National Institute of Social Defence (NISD), under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

“The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana has failed trans persons. Nothing specific was given to the community which is marginalised even in the best of times. The only support was offered through the NISD which asked us to apply for monetary help online,” they said, adding that many could not even avail themselves of that grant because of paucity of information and limited time slots.

The Census 2011 has registered 4.88 lakh people as belonging to the community, which activists say is a conservative estimate. “Even by this estimate, less than 1% of the overall transgender population of the country have received NISD assistance. Most still remain out of the state’s reach, and continue to survive in most gruelling circumstances,” said Meera Sanghamitra, trans activist and convenor of the National Alliance of People’s Movements in Telangana.

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With physical distancing becoming the norm, trans people have lost their means of sustenance which has predominantly been begging, sex work and informal labour. Often driven away from their homes early in life, many live in poor unhygienic conditions that expose them to several health risks. Moreover, activists say a good section of trans people do not have either identity cards or bank accounts to avail themselves of monetary help from the government.

“In Hyderabad there are some 2,000 transgender people. Only a few have Aadhaar cards and ration cards are non-existent. Ration cards are denied to us as we don’t have valid residence proof. The gender we identify ourselves with at present is different from the one assigned at the time of our birth. The bureaucratic process involved makes all the more difficult for us to attain government identity cards,” says Rachana Mudraboyina, a trans person.

The Union government announced Rs 1,500 as a grant to members of the community in response to to a letter by transgender activists on March 25, 2020, explaining the urgency and impact of the lockdown on the community.

Activists say that the Supreme Court judgment in NALSA versus the Union of India clearly stated that the lack of documents cannot be shown as a reason for denying benefits. Yet, they continue to face difficulties. Although the number of self-identified transgender persons has significantly increased, the same is nowhere reflected in official records.

Only Kerala has been a notable exception, activists say, where ration kits were distributed by the state government to a large section of the transgender community.

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“The Telangana government has been sitting on the applications for new ration cards from some seven lakh families. No cards have been issued in the past five years. Denial of these cards to trans persons is but a continuation of this denial of benefits in this situation,” Sanghamitra said.

The community has been rendered completely vulnerable during the lockdown because of lack of food and nutritional security, housing, steady income, and sanitation facilities.

Aditi Saini, a trans person who lives in Indore, Madhya Pradesh and works in a beauty parlour, said, “The discrimination against us is evident as we pay double the rent. I stay with a friend of mine and pay Rs 4,000 for a place worth Rs 2,000. I earn Rs 8,000 per month and don’t have a ration card and hence haven’t received any rations. My meagre savings are getting exhausted.”

K. Samatha, an auto rickshaw driver in Ibrahimpatnam, Hyderabad said, “Very few of us have bank accounts. I still have to pay three bank instalments to call the auto I own, my own. I have exhausted all my savings as there has been no work at all.”

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Activists like Sanghmitra have long been pushing for universal welfare measures, so that transgender people do not have to wade through a targeted delivery system that has only been a harrowing experience. “Universalisation would not only help us but all vulnerable communities, which have their own share of problems,” she said.

“As of now, we earnestly appeal that a special package must be announced immediately for the transgender community,” Sanghamitra added.

However, the fact that the Narendra Modi government is trying to frame rules of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act passed in 2019 in the middle of lockdown is deeply worrying, Sanghamitra feels.”Officials have only given us time till May 30 to submit our replies. The rules are problematic because the main Act itself is problematic as it violates the Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment in NALSA,” she said, adding that the matter is pending before the apex court.

Meanwhile, the activists have asked that the government announce an assistance package for the community until the pandemic subsides. It includes a subsistence income of at least Rs 3,000, immunity against evictions, an uninterrupted supply of all essential medication and food.