Coronavirus impact: How Isolation, HIV memories hit India's Transgender community hard in lockdowns
New Delhi, Mar 30: The coronavirus pandemic that has killed close to 30,000 globally, and a lockdown is being seen as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmitting the virus.
In an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed to all citizens to stay inside their homes till April 14. Already, India has recorded 29 deaths and 1071 cases. However, this lockdown has left transgender people at hightened risk of poverty and ill health because they exist on the margins of society, eking out a living through sex work and begging.
Though Supreme Court of India ruled in 2014 that transgender people had equal rights, but prejudice against them persists and they are often rejected by their families and denied jobs, education and healthcare.
Many trans women, also known in India as hijras, survive through begging at busy intersections and on trains, performing at social functions such as weddings or selling sex.
Amid lockdown, the marginalised transgender community of the Bengaluru city is facing difficulty to meet basic needs. With large fraction of the community dependent on beggary for sustenance, the situation has resulted in literally no earnings for most of them, as general public are away from streets and shops being closed.
"We are facing difficulty for even one time food... no one is coming forward to help us," a transgender said. While pointing out that the government was helping labourers and other needy, another transgender said, "what have we done wrong? The situation is such that we cannot go out and ask for money or food...at least provide us with food."
Some of us are short of money for medicines, there are many elders who are ill and HIV affected, another transperson pointed out. However, organisations like Ondede that works for the rights of the transgenders, led by activist Akkai Padmashali, is working with well-wishers of the community to provide groceries to the doorstep of transgenders.
Speaking to PTI, Padmashali demanded that a package for the community along with other vulnerable sections, by the government that takes care of the livelihood from medicine to ration for couple of months, until the situation gets better.
"I'm disappointed with the federal and the state government's response towards the community...We are the ones affected directly, our daily life is on the streets through begging and sex work... our daily life is affected like daily wage workers. There is no food, no money for rent, there are HIV positive people unable to buy medicines," she said. Also pointing out that there is no proper awareness being created among the people of the community who are vulnerable, she said, most of us don't have TV to see awareness ads.
In hyderabad, wall posters have sprung up which reads,''If you talk to transgenders, you will get Corona.'' Posters were found stuck on metro pillars at Ameerpet Metro Station, and on Raj Bhavan road and Banjara Hills Road No 12.
While in Uttar Pradesh, transgenders are coming forward to provide food and water to migrant labourers who are returning home after the lockdown.
Transgender people must be aware of the particular risk for the coronavirus because of the several factors:
- LGBTQ people have higher rates of HIV and cancer, and therefore may have a compromised immune system. According to NCTE's 2015 US Trans Survey, trans people are five times more likely to be living with HIV compared to the general population.
- LGBTQ people also use tobacco at a rate of 50% higher than the general population. The coronavirus is a respiratory illness that could be especially harmful to smokers.
Trans adults are also more likely to score their health as poor or fair compare to the general population. More than 1 out 5 transgender adults have at least one or more chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, or asthma. Fear of discrimination keeps many of us from going to the doctor. This may impact the potential novel coronavirus effect on us in three ways:
- Stigma and discrimination makes transgender people reluctant to get help.
- Access to health care barriers, such as lack of insurance, leaves us less likely to get medical care.
- Existing health conditions mean more of us live in a state of compromised health.