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.
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