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Not All Rainbows Are Colourful: Impact of COVID-19 on the Transgender Community in India

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Introduction

For decades the trans community has faced discrimination, unwanted gazes, and backlashes. The right to self-determination and identification as the third gender was only given to them in 2014 through NALSA v. Union of India. Many activists voiced their opinions to discard the stigma, violence, and harassment they face regularly, the result of which was reflected in the landmark supreme court judgment Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. Significant rules were layout through The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, but these preliminary guidelines failed to maintain checks and balances.

The ground reality is ravaging. The COVID-19 pandemic crushed the ephemeral hope they gained from the government and the general public. There is no notable support, aid, or contribution made by our society suggesting a massive failure as a nation. Routinely, they are barred and discarded from their families, workplaces, rented houses and are subjected to violence and discrimination. Issues such as lack of healthcare facilities, economic instability, and psychological ramifications have proliferated during the lockdown. 

According to the census of 2011, India had around 4.88 lakh transgenders with 55,000 children identified as transgender. When a major part of our society is suffering miserably, it is only our transphobia and lack of sensitivity that is restricting us from providing them appropriate support. It is time we treated every citizen of our country with equal respect and dignity. 

Depleting Health Care Facilities During Covid-19:

With the looming fear of covid-19 and the breaking down of the health care system in India, the transgender community today stands at an extremely vulnerable and fragile pedestal. The unguarded and assailable transgender community is at a greater risk of exposing themselves to chronic illnesses considering the poor and impecunious health care system in India specifically when numbers suggest that more than 1 out of 5 transgender adults suffers from one or more chronic illnesses

The problem becomes more urgent and apparent when 3.1% of India’s transgender population is HIV positive due to which they have weak and compromised immune systems. With a major lack of awareness and information regarding the potential danger that such patients may have, it becomes extremely difficult to extract medical care. Thus, the trans community has been disproportionality hit by the notorious virus.

Though getting proper and appropriate health care facilities for transgender is a distant dream, considering the wrecking that has been felt in the second wave of covid-19 in India. The lack of proper testing among transgenders not only pose danger to their community members but also the public in general. 

Another problem confronting the trans community is the lack of private health care facilities and health insurance because of economic restrictions. This issue not only reduces their social security but also nurtures and sustains an essence of insecurity for the future.

In India less than 4%  of transgender Indians have been vaccinated, the primary reason for this bare visibility is the stigma and transphobia that exist in society. The lack of faith in healthcare and the extreme lack of representation in the medical fraternity make the transgender population diffident to appropriate these benefits. The ignoble and inimical ambiance for transgenders in India is widening the gap between the “Hijra community” and their reach to proper and basic healthcare services.

Socio-economic conditions of the Transgender Community during Covid-19:

As the country is struggling with extended lockdowns, the plight of the transgender community is tied in a gordian’s knot. A major chunk of them makes their living through daily wages and gig jobs, including begging, paid sex, and street entertainment. They are marginalized and not socially privileged to shift to the online world. They are predominantly dependent on social interactions such as weddings and baby showers.  The Indian government in its stimulus package of approximately 22 billion USD for vulnerable groups largely failed to deliver significant aides and relief packages to this targeted community

Transgenders are in disarray as only recently many of them moved to urban areas due to dire reasons such as violence, discrimination, and non-acceptance from families. Elongated lockdowns elicited job scarcity due to which many trans-people opt to take loans from private distributors as most of them do not have proper documentation and identity proof to open a bank account. Many of them fail to return the money and fall into the debt trap of these private money lenders leading to harshening of their already debilitated economic condition.

There is a general lack of literacy among this community due to which they are easily manipulated and victimized emotionally, physically, sexually, or verbally known as trans bashing. In the context of pandemic response, the mental health of vulnerable communities has deteriorated significantly. Major impacts on the social, community, and family connections, as well as long periods of isolation with bare minimum survival, have prompted many-fold psychological implications.  

A country like India, which boasts itself as the world’s largest democracy and where due cultural importance has been given to the trans community is not only cast out but is begging for basic human rights. Thus, in these extraordinary circumstances, it is incumbent upon the government to come up with some specific policies related to transgender such as providing sanitary pads, awareness about COVID-19 and appropriate measures for HIV positive groups, monthly allowances, distribution of food and relief-aides, creating trans-friendly covid testing and quarantine centers. It is important to remind ourselves that Trans Lives matter.

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