20 May 2022 09:52 AM



Just 1% of Transpersons and Sex Workers Receive Government Relief So Far

‘Our community doesn’t really have a home’

NEW DELHI: In an effort to create awareness of the challenges faced by transpersons and sex workers during the pandemic, Loktantrashala – A School for Democracy organised a press conference on trans and sex workers’ rights during Covid-19 on June 6.

The panellists included Ranchana Mudraboyina (a transgender rights activist), Kusum (president of the All India Network of Sex Workers) and Vihaan (from Nazariya – A Queer Feminist Resource Group). The discussion was moderated by Amit, national coordinator of the AINSW.

The conference began with noted activist, former IAS officer and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy reading the Preamble in Hindi and English.

The discussion focused on three issues in the main. First, the continued social and economic exclusion both of transfolk and sex workers, which further victimises them as the pandemic continues.

Second, the politics of manufacturing myth such as the false claim that sex workers are more likely to carry the coronavirus.

Third, the state’s systemic failure to endow legitimacy to the work done by sex workers, even if it is in the informalised economy.

According to Ranchana Mudraboyina, “The working class – transgender population, migrant labourers and sex-workers – have been marginalised during the pandemic. After requesting the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for relief, Rs.5 crores was allotted to us, but it has hardly reached 5,000 transgenders and sex workers.”

The 2011 census recorded around 5 lakh “third gender” respondents living in India – a number that would have tripled in ten years. And according to the National AIDS Control Organisation, there are approximately 9 lakh sex workers in the country.

“It is necessary to have an Aadhar card to receive the bank payments of Rs.1,500 to each transgender/ sex worker. But why should we give our confidential data to the state?” asked Mudraboyina, hinting at the discriminatory vilification caused by Aadhar, the NPR, NRC and CAA.

“The challenge with document verification was before corona and shall remain after it, too,” Amit agreed.

Not all transgender and sex workers have bank accounts, the panelists pointed out, and of the Centre’s putative 20 lakh crore relief package, it remains debatable how much money was given to the transpeople or sex workers.

A serious blackout of this issue continues in the domestic media.

It was described how several transphobic posters popped up in various cities and towns, reading “Keep transgenders away as COVID spreads through them.”

“Those who were transitioning did not get hormone therapy due to the lockdown. The few who were on monthly testosterone hormone therapy started having their menstruation again due to the lack of regular injections. Also, there have been suicide cases in our community due to the worsening of mental health during the pandemic,” Mudraboyina explained.

It was pointed out that testing and quarantine centres for transpersons or for sex workers have been established only in Manipur and West Bengal.

Turning to the issue of home quarantine, Vihaan from Nazariya remarked that “our community does not really have a home.”

“Cases of domestic violence and humiliating comments have increased during the pandemic. For closeted community members, living at home has meant living under higher surveillance and policing,” Vihaan explained.

“They cannot go back to the homes that inflicted violence on them.”

On the damage done by the oppressive state machine during the lockdown, Kusum revealed another hardly reported issue.

“At least for the first 15 days, there was no ration or relief for us, we could not even afford milk. There were days when we diluted half a litre of milk with water to feed the kids,” she said.

“One of our community members needed an immediate abortion but we could not find any medical facility. So, we had to opt for a private hospital even though it was very expensive.”

Regular sex work cannot continue normally now or even in the post-Covid phase. A lot of stigma and homophobia has been manufactured, the panelists said.

“No system has been made since 2014 for the transgender population. Be it Aadhar or even passport. To have a third ‘other’ category in PAN cards was a very tumultuous process in itself. If this is the situation, how will any kind of social or economic inclusion ever take place?” Mudraboyina asked.

“Along with transphobia, there is a lack of political will in the governance sector for our social inclusion.”

The current changes being debated in India’s labour laws as well as the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 would pose further challenges to the community.

“There is a blurred line of consent in trafficking and sex work. Till the time the issue of consent is not discussed out in a sustained manner, no real change can happen,” Amit, the moderator stated.

As the entire world continues to reel under the unpredictable impact of the pandemic, the mental health, social and economic inclusion, as well as legitimate work criteria for transgender persons or for sex workers remain in the doldrums.

If the state takes no sustained action, the pandemic will continue to expose these grim failures of the system.