The Supreme Court of India ruled in 2014 recognised transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling. "It is the human right of every person to choose their gender," said the statement that granted every member of the trans community equal rights. Despite the dramatic progress of the transgender movement in the last decade that has resulted in greater public awareness and significant legal victories, the transgender community continues to face blatant discrimination, high levels of violence, and poor health outcomes. Strong prejudice against them still persists, they are often rejected by their families and denied jobs, education and healthcare.
It takes a lot of strength for a transgender person to come to terms with who they are, which in most cases makes them depressed when they are figuring out how to deal with their gender misalignment or dysphoria. Trying to achieve their dreams in a country where people routinely mock and harass them makes their life even more difficult. In India, you will most commonly come across these transgender individuals begging for money in public places. Some people are polite enough and feel sympathy or pity towards them and contribute, but it's never enough to provide them with the kind of livelihood that an 'equal' deserves. This ignorance and lack of understanding about the transgender community is a major reason for their missed opportunities like proper education, jobs and laws that actually protect them from any kind of harassment.
In India, a transgender person is often referred to as a 'Hijra' by people, as we have picked up on the term without the complete understanding of it. The Hijra community is a unique blend of biological, gendered, and sexual identities underpinned by religion and bound by a tight-knit social structure. Hijras include people assigned male at birth who may or may not undergo castration and modifications such as breast implants but are considered as a transgender woman, eunuchs, as well as some (but not all) intersex people. In some areas of India, transgender people are also known as Aravani, Aruvani or Jagappa. There are approximately half a million hijras and other third gender individuals in India, plus smaller numbers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The Hijra community had not always been ridiculed and outcasted for their gender identity like they are present. In fact, these community members held a significant place in Indian society. When we look back in history, in Hindu mythology, there were trans people who were called Kinnars. They were placed alongside highly regarded groups like the Yakshas and Gandharvas. We come across characters like Shikhandi, Ila, Mohini, etc, to name a few, playing important roles in Hindu mythology. The Ardhanarishvara, half-male and half-female form of divine energy, created by merging Shiva and Parvati is worshipped in Hinduism. During Mughal rule in India, trans people were given important posts of security and decision making.
Then, in the colonial times in the country, British officials began considering eunuchs "ungovernable". Commentators said they evoked images of "filth, disease, contagion and contamination". They were portrayed as people who were "addicted to sex with men". Colonial officials said they were not only a danger to "public morals", but also a "threat to colonial political authority". Eventually, these eunuchs became a part of the trans community in modern India with the LGBT rights gaining a significant position in the society. But even with the legal right of equality bestowed upon them, they are yet to reap any benefits from it.
The Funders For LGBTQ Issues broadly lists a few common issues faced by the transgender individuals, they are:-
1. Health - Transgender people face enormous health disparities, including staggering rates of HIV infection, lack of primary medical care and high rates of attempted suicide.
2. Economics - Transgender people bear the economic consequences of discrimination, including high rates of poverty and unemployment, discrimination in education, and homelessness. Trans people are more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty, subjected to the low standard of living, minimal healthcare facilities and living in poor conditions like a slum for most of their lives.
3. Safety - Transgender people experience frightening levels of physical violence. This is particularly true among transgender people participating in sex work and other informal or criminalized economies. Brutal murders of transgender women occur with such alarming regularity, often with little response from law enforcement, that the American Medical Association (AMA) declared violence against transgender people an epidemic in 2019.
4. Civil Rights - Recognition and respect for the civil rights of trans people is critically important because their legal needs span many aspects of life. Even though they are considered a 'third gender' in the country, their unfulfilled needs like identity documents that accurately reflect who they are, protections from employment discrimination, and immigration rights, keep them as one of the most vulnerable members of the society.
One of the most concerning issues that the transgender community faces is that they are the most affected group by the HIV epidemic and are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population. Globally, it is estimated that around 19% of transgender women are living with HIV. Social exclusion, economic vulnerability and a lack of employment opportunities mean that sex work is often the most viable form of income available to transgender people, and a high proportion of transgender people engage in sex work. The proportion of transgender persons who sell sex is estimated to be up to 90% in India. Another concerning issue is the hormone injection by the community members. It is common for them to obtain injectable hormones, the most common form of gender enhancement, and carry out the injecting themselves. But as they do this without counselling on safe injecting practices, those who go through this process may be very vulnerable to HIV transmission because of the risk of sharing needles with others. The lack of resources and civil rights also keeps them exempt from adequate HIV testing, further risking their lives.
In March 2020, after the nationwide COVID 19 lockdown was announced to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Minister of Finance, Nirmala Sitharaman announced a stimulus package of close to INR 1.7 Lakh Crore that included specific measures for vulnerable groups like those below the poverty line, the disabled, widowed and older persons, daily wage earners and farmers. They conveniently left out a targeted response for the 490,000 members of the transgender community. Except for Kerala, which has announced relief kits for 1,000 transgender persons registered in the state, so far no other state or the central government scheme includes specific protection measures for the community in its COVID 19 response strategy.
Almost any transgender person you come across is a daily wage earner. After the pandemic was declared, they feel just as stranded and helpless as the other migrant workers who are walking back home. The lockdown has made it impossible for them to continue their daily work that mostly revolves around begging. Being disowned by their biological families, going back home is not an option. The panic amongst them does not only come from the threat of contracting the deadly COVID 19 virus, but also from fear of inaccessibility of daily food, medicines, shelter and other essential services.
In due consideration of these challenges faced by the trans community, several fundraiser campaigns have been set up. Grassroots non-profits organisations, citizen groups, civil society organisations, trans activists and even individuals are coming together to help the marginalized groups to fight the pandemic as well as hunger. Some of them are:-
1. Women and Transgender Organisations Joint Action Committee in Hyderabad is raising funds to support approximately 200 transgender persons with a basic income of INR 5000 to sustain themselves through the lockdown.
2. All Assam Transgender Association aims to buy the necessary items through this fundraising including food, sanitary pads, sanitizers, and other essentials that will be distributed among the Transgender Community.
3. Kolkata Rista is essentially focused on providing food and medicine for the community.
4. A collective of people in Chennai are raising funds for providing food and healthcare essentials to at least 100 transgender persons for their basic provisions to fight the COVID 19 pandemic.
5. Samabhabona is raising funds to distribute ration and petty cash to transgenders, especially older transgender persons who have lost their livelihood in West Bengal.
6. Sangama aims to support sex workers and transgender persons in Karnataka through food supplies and cash for sustenance.
Some fundraisers that have been organised to help the community members for various other requirements as well. Some of them are:-
1. Help me survive please! is a campaign by Ruhi, a Transfeminine (non-binary) person who is suffering from Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Psychosis, Insomnia, and severe anxiety disorder. To help with their survival and provisions, the fundraisers aims at collecting a sum to help out.
2. HELP MY FRIEND TO SURVIVE is a campaign started by the friend of an anonymous 21-year-old pre-T trans man who is in need of urgent financial help to move out from their homes as they are being tortured for their sexual orientation.
3. Gift Shakti with Sex Reassignment Surgery is a fundraiser to help Shakti collect enough money to undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or more aptly, Gender Reaffirming Surgery.
4. Help Build A Home For Transgender Artists In Bellary, Karnataka is a fundraiser to build a home for the Jogathis, lifelong followers of Goddess Yellamma of today and tomorrow to have a space of their own that will be a testament to the Jogathi culture and it will help preserve our folk art.
5. Support Sonali For Breast Implant is another campaign to raise money for breasts implant surgery for a pre-op transwoman, Sonali.