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Violent Homes And Prejudiced Streets: What Life’s Like For Trans Persons Amid COVID-19

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
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COVID-19 pandemic will be counted as perhaps one of the worst in the history of pandemics. The richest and the most powerful people in the world have been affected by it, including entertainers like Tom Hanks and Pink, monarchs like Prince Charles and national level politicians and diplomats.

In India, the rich globe trotters have brought the virus into the country, and it is now spreading among the working class. While the rich have been able to quarantine themselves with all the luxury in their homes or fly themselves back home in private jets, it is the marginalised who continue to be on the streets in desperate attempts to get back home crossing hundreds of miles on feet. However, what about those who do not have a home to go back to?

For most transgender persons, home is not where the natal family is. Violence experienced by transgender persons within the family is a much-discussed issue. Several transgender persons run away from their natal families to find a community in the cities. Among them, while the Hijra community has for long created households for themselves, the rest of the trans community still lives in either single-person households or with their partners.

Among the trans persons who have left their natal families, the hijra community is largely dependent on Badhai toli traditions and sex work for their livelihood. With the lockdown setting in, their income has come to a standstill. Other trans persons, especially trans men who have managed to set up small businesses, are now deprived of their income due to the lockdown.

In the absence of documents required to access Public Distribution Services (PDS) that the government has extended to the economically marginalised at this time, transgender people are left to the benevolence of activists who have been distributing resources among the marginalised. Furthermore, while some of the State governments have built shelters for the homeless, these are gender-segregated, and transgender persons usually do not find space in these shelters.

Transgender persons who have not yet managed to escape the clutches of their violent families are stuck with parents and siblings inside their homes. While on a regular day, they manage to go out or meet supportive friends or community members, this option is no longer available to them. They have to constantly endure the physical and verbal abuse meted out to them by their family members, owing to their clothes or looks.

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If they are of marriageable age, they are also constantly subjected to marriage pressures. If they have come out to their family and their families are unaccepting of their identity, in addition to the physical and verbal abuse, they also have to face constant and intentional misgendering. This is enough to take a toll on the mental health of any trans person. While some of them may have access to peer or professional counsellors, in the absence of privacy in their homes, they may not be able to access it during the lockdown.

In terms of access to medical facilities, too, transgender persons have faced several issues. Even before a pandemic, transgender persons faced major problems while accessing health care, with hospitals and doctors being extremely prejudiced about transgender persons. In the current circumstances, the situation is not going to get any better.

A lot of transgender persons are living with HIV, which leads to them being immunocompromised. As such, they need special care at this point. While the anti-retroviral therapy (ART) centres are currently open and dispensing medicines, there may be unavailability of doctors. Since the transport system has also come to a halt, people living with HIV are not able to access the hospitals in which they are registered.

Transgender persons who are undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) are unable to access their doses or pharmacists who are ready to inject the hormones. Transgender activists have also demanded separate quarantine ward for transgender persons as the wards are currently gender-segregated and cause further problems and trauma to transgender persons.

Amidst the distress caused by the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, hate and stigma have also established their roots strongly. Incidents of Islamophobia and racism have been widely reported. Social distancing is being used as a justification to reinforce hierarchies of class and caste and create further segregation between communities. With the increasing prejudice and stigma against marginalised communities, where they are being demonized systematically in the name of social distancing, I feel the situation will only become worse.

Under such circumstances, it is unsurprising that the transgender community, too, has to face stigma. In Hyderabad, a poster stating that talking to transgender persons will lead to the spread of COVID-19 was doing the rounds. Transgender persons have also reported being humiliated in the pharmacies where they go to buy medicines. Transgender persons have also spoken about feeling uncomfortable approaching the testing centres because of their previous experiences with hospitals.

With the drastic lifestyle change that this pandemic has brought down upon us, we can be ensured that COVID-19 will bring about a change in humanity. It remains to be seen whether this change is for the better or worse. But if we are to hope for a better social reality post this outbreak, it becomes extremely important that we check our prejudice and reimagine a less hierarchical and segregated world.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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