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From Harassment To Abuse, What Trans People Had To Face During Demonetisation

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By Abhishek Jha for Cake:

“They were thinking of black money, they were thinking of businessmen, they were thinking of common people- men and women. They never thought where transgender persons will go and what they will do,”
says Rudrani Chauhan, a transwoman and a Managing Trustee at Mitr Trust, a community-based organisation (CBO) that works with the Delhi State AIDS Control Society. Chauhan works with the Hijra and transgender community, and thinks that it should have been common sense to consider that “these people don’t have accounts but these people also earn, these people also spend” and to have provided a mechanism for them to convert their money.

Ever since the demonetisation storm hit the country, a basic procedural problem that has come up for the community is the lack of an ID. Ritika, a Hijra who works at Chauhan’s CBO, borrowed a friend’s identification card to exchange the cash that she had but was asked to bring the person along. She says she did have a ration card but that identifies her as male and with a different legal name.

Neetu too had an ID card with her gender as that assigned at birth, which was male. This is so because there was no NALSA judgment until 2014, which instructed the central and state governments to make provisions for transgender persons to identify themselves as such. Neetu shares how there were problems at the bank when she showed up there looking like who she is. She has had to cut her hair short and keep her face unshaved since then to be able to make transactions at the bank. She says she did try to get an ID made identifying her as a transgender person but she was asked to produce a medical certificate proving that she had undergone a Sex Re-assignment Surgery, a medical procedure not necessary for one to identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth. Requesting such a certificate was, in fact, declared illegal in the 2014 judgment.

Moreover, Chauhan says that many in the community do not have bank accounts. She argues that if the number of accounts registered in the name of transgender persons was compared with their population as found in the census, the percentage would be very small.

Chauhan’s argument is not unfounded. An year after the 2014 judgment, in April 2015, the RBI still needed to put out a notification advising banks to follow the judgment and include the option for “third gender”- another highly-criticised term- in their forms and applications. Until March 2015, gender of account holders was being marked only ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the demographic information collected from banks. This is the latest available data published by the RBI in its March 2016 Basic Statistical Returns report. Those thus excluded from our banking system number around 4 lakh people according to census data, a number argued to be an underestimate.

 Until March 2015, gender of account holders was being marked only ‘male’ and ‘female’. Source: Basic Statistical Returns, March 2016, RBI.

The roots of this ostracisation from banking services though go deeper than mere procedural difficulty. The literacy rate estimate nationwide for the community, from the census, is 56.07 percent. Even when literate, the prejudice and harassment implies that several in the community rely largely on sex-work or alms. Both Chouhan and Ritika say that they need to save enough money to help them in their old age as they don’t have either social security schemes or a family to depend on.

Those with such savings are scared of revealing it right now. Chouhan argues that the community is unwilling to come out with their cash for the fear of being attacked or harassed as it “has always been targeted by the male-dominated society or the government or the police and everyone”. “How do Hijras die? They are murdered. Because people know they don’t have bank accounts. They keep their money under the pillow, in the closet, in utensils. So they are murdered,” Ritika says. For Tina, a Hijra who does sex-work, the shortage in cash after the old notes were banned has meant that income from sex-work has almost halved.

When Ritika went to the bank, she faced the sexual harassment, which was routine, she says, when she was in school, yet again. She was standing in the queue, she told me, and did not resort to the Hijra clap as there were senior-citizen, children whose parents were probably ill and at home, etc. She empathised with the trouble she imagined the people in the queue might be facing due to demonetisation. This did not last.

She tolerated the men who were clicking pictures of her back for a while. Soon they were touching and pinching her. She went ahead and complained to the guard but was told that she would have to follow the queue. “You know they say, ‘Hijre hi galat hain (Hijras themselves are to blame)’. When after this frustration Hijras clap, then people say, ‘Hijras are bad’,” she rued. “When I was standing in the line, the men started doing all this. So I had to clap out of desperation,” she said.

Featured image credit: Abhishek Jha

This article was first published here on Cake.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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