Pandemic has seeped into everyone's life and wreaked havoc. The disposition of the country seems to flail for India, which is the third-highest country in terms of COVID related deaths. In such a chaos of medical shortages and several lockdowns, one community that has always been marginalized and neglected is Transgenders'. They have faced a multitude of challenges even more since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
Non-recognition and non-acceptance of the third gender have always hindered Transgender people to flourish in society. This also acts as an obstacle for them to get equal access to healthcare, food, and job security as well as education, especially in the pandemic. The pandemic has staggered the daily lives of many. The transgender community has been one of the most untended communities which have been suffering its plight in silence.
The issue of Healthcare at its basis for transgender people is stemmed from prejudice. Many transgenders are uncomfortable paying a visit to the hospital. They have to witness discrimination and derogatory remarks from people and even the medical staff.
Akkai Padhmashali, is a renowned Transgender activist, motivational speaker, and singer from Karnataka who has also been acclaimed with Rajyotsava Prashasti, the second-highest civilian honour of the state of Karnataka. In talks with The Logical Indian, she states,
"I think somewhere the entire healthcare system in the country has collapsed. The country is not in any condition to combat COVID-19."
Highlighting the inability of the government, she says, "The healthcare system is supposed to protect the people. The money should flow here, to prioritize access to the fundamental right to live."
On the prevailing marred treatment of the Transgender community in the light of a staggering healthcare she remarks,
"The entire situation is totally unpleasant on transgender people who have been ignored. The social benefits, social schemes, medical facilities, and vaccination, other remedies of the health sector have not been appropriately administered. In an approaching third wave, we as a nation have to tackle this. The government of India and Karnataka government should allot a budget. Each person should get 20 thousand rupees where free social entitlement is concerned. If not, they are answerable to the nation."
Anita Vashi, a 33-year-old transgender from Mumbai said, "The primary healthcare system has failed many transgender Indians. Many of us feel uncomfortable while visiting government hospitals because a lot of times, hospital staff especially males make derogatory remarks and ask us to sit among men even after telling them that we identify as women. I think there should be some facility like a ward specifically for transgenders in each hospital. We are made to run around various departments pointlessly because of which our treatment gets delayed," NDTV reported.
Their health has been compromised and considered secondary due to the construct of society. They have suffered from poor health and have had difficulty receiving HIV medication, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), on time.
As Anita reveals, "I have seen people dying of HIV during the lockdown. I sent bodies of 8 transgenders from my area to their respective villages. Their situation worsened because they could not get ART therapy as the medical officer, in charge refused to give it due to the lockdown. In two of such cases, hospitals in Mumbai refused to admit the patients as their jaundice had worsened. They told us that the chance of survival is low and admitting them would only take up hospital resources and beds which were already short due to a high number of COVID cases."
The physical and social distancing coupled with multiple lockdowns has rendered unemployment for the Transgender people who get money by begging in public places, trains, buses, and going to functions such as marriage or birth of a child. Many were already and now have resorted to sex work to meet their expenses. In this tribulation, they are bereft of any aid.
Akkai, on the significant issue of unemployment, says, "When it comes to sex work, the clients can not physically avoid each other to perform sex. Having said that, how can people earn money. In the profession of begging, it is possible for you to still maintain social distancing but in sex work, it's highly impossible. In the name of social distancing, we can't feed people. What is the alternative option here? The government has failed to consult organizations and activists working for the cause. I feel very disappointed to speak on this. The country has faced many epidemics and diseases like polio, tuberculosis, and many others before. We were supposed to handle this pandemic as a health emergency. Correlating the scenario with countries, like America how the progress is taking the entire issue there. I think the world health organization has to put it to special attention and draft special guidelines for the transgender or sex worker community."
Zoya, a 26-year old transgender person states "For my daily bread and butter, I was begging in the local trains in Mumbai, before the lockdown, mostly in the ladies' compartment." She used to earn around 800-1000 a day while begging in trains before everything halted last year.
Her ordeals with earning like many other transgender people struck with the first wave of the pandemic.
"Naturally, because of the lockdown, people stopped stepping out of their house. That is when my only source of income took a hit. One day, I earned Rs 450 only, which was not enough. I have to pay the rent for my room, pay my other bills – I was worried and stressed."
In another instance, during the first wave Tina Gupta from Panvel, Maharashtra, told The Indian Express, "We are a group of eight, who have our designated areas at traffic signals. In a lockdown, we could not buy even the most basic of commodities like rice, and dal to fulfil our daily necessities; forget about sanitization kits for protection. We used to wander around in the hope that local vendors would help us, but our efforts were in vain. Sometimes, it makes us wonder if we are even considered to be normal human beings," she says.
The state of Transgender people has been overlooked and the prospect of putting food on the table amidst such a crisis is not catered by the government.
As the vaccination drive in the country is in its full swing, the Transgender community deplored the ongoing vaccinations. Mid-May, the south representative of the National Council for Transgender Persons, Gopi Shankar of Madurai expressed in writing to the Health Secretaries of the southern states and Union Territories emphasizing the discrimination faced by the transgender community while seeking treatment for COVID-19.
Transgender people have complained to him about a lack of medical treatment, he claimed. He implored the officials to make sure transgender people have access to hospital beds and vaccinations. The COVID-19 epidemic had already dismantled their livelihoods, and they couldn't afford adequate healthcare, he said.
He deliberated the importance of holding particular immunization efforts for transgender people. They were having major difficulties obtaining immunizations. In addition, there was little or no knowledge of the necessity of immunization in the community. He said that the only way to obtain slots now was to do it online.
Taking note of the special appeal, Akkai also implored, "I urge the government of India. This has been our urge since COVID began. We said separate vaccination campaigns should be established so that people are aware of the situation and have firm education on this matter. Keeping that in mind there should be a separate campaign for the transgender community."
"We have experienced, many of our testimonies have spoken that members who have been to the public sector have faced an enormous amount of discrimination. COVID is fine but facing discrimination in the name of COVID and its processes is highly difficult to combat. I urge the state and the federal system to ensure that separate campaign for the transgender community shall be there," she added.
Therefore, the trajectory of the Transgender community in the pandemic has been filled with obstructions. Their plight often missed and unaccepted has disregarded by society and us. This calls for a dire need to eliminate such prejudice and foster equitable policies for them.