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.
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.
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.