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Locked Into Violence With No Safety Nets: Trans Community During Lockdown

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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.

The lockdown because of the pandemic has been extremely challenging for everyone.

The LGBTQIA+ and especially the transgender community has special challenges that may be beyond the imagination of society. The lockdown also meant financial disruption for the community, especially for the Hijra community.

The response from the government has been lackadaisical. Much needs to be done especially through the instrument of The Transgender Persons Act for creating solid safety nets against Domestic Violence, providing safe-home services and short-term relief, and long-term empowerment of the community through their active engagement.

Representational image.

How COVID Specially Affected Transpersons

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all sections of society. But it has affected some sections of society more – one such section is the transgender community. While a lot of problems are faced by most of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, some problems are unique to the Trans community.

A section of the Trans community is transitioning at any point in time. Transition through gender affirmation procedures can be a very long process. One could be transitioning through one or multiple aspects.

The transition could be in the form of medical or surgical transition – through puberty blockers, cross-hormone therapy, laser hair reduction, top surgeries and bottom surgeries, genital reconstruction surgeries, plastic surgeries, etc. It could be in the form of voice therapy even. The transition could also involve legal transition, social transition, and so on.

Lockdown did put a brake on transitions of most of these kinds for many trans persons.

In the lockdown, while most doctors and surgeons shut their clinics because of the COVID scare, this also included doctors dealing with transition services. Many of the hospitals were converted into COVID-dedicated hospitals which meant that elective procedures and services were put on hold for an indefinite period. Very few of the government hospitals offered gender affirmation services in the first place and thanks to Covid even those that were doing it, stopped doing so.

Even service providers from private set-ups shut shop given the uncertainty of COVID and the risks involved to their patients. The poor financial situation meant fewer financial resources to spend on highly expensive gender affirmation services. Also, during the lockdown, most of the government offices were closed or were working only for essential services – making the legal transition very difficult.

Most of the government offices dealing with the change of name and gender in the IDs stopped offering their services during this time. The social transition needs an amenable social environment and being locked into a hostile home is not a favourable situation at all for any kind of real-life experience for a transitioning transgender person.

In addition to these special needs, the basic healthcare needs of trans persons were also compromised during the lockdown. There are needs for contraception, abortion services, services related to reproductive tract infections and sexually transmitted infections, Pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and, HIV prevention and treatment services. Almost all of these were compromised or annulled during the lockdown, at least in the early part of the lockdown.

Image provided by the author.

The Woes Of The Hijra And Kinnar Communities During COVID

Also, one must not forget the highly affected community of Hijra or Kinnar. The Hijra/Kinnar community makes its living by engaging in various cultural activities like Badhai, giving blessings, and dancing on social occasions like births and marriages, begging, and also sex work. As expected, the lockdown meant doom for them. Not just were their traditional occupations disrupted, there was an increased marginalization of the transgender community during the lockdown.

Many of the members of the Hijra community stay in rented premises. While in the first one or two months of the lockdown, the house rent was not such a pressing issue but it increased later with eviction threats and risk of homelessness. The lockdown affected the economy of the entire world and India was no exception. This meant that most people stopped giving alms to the begging Hijra community members.

As the fear of the virus spread across the world it brought sex work to a halt for many months thus again affecting the livelihood of the community members. It is known that such situations can force community members to adopt higher-risk behaviours be it in the form of unsafe sex or substance abuse.

When it comes to food relief, most members of the Hijra community do not possess ration cards or even Aadhaar cards. Therefore, getting the benefit of food supplies became an enormous task. No special scheme was made available by the government through its much-touted 20 lakh crore financial package with even the one of direct benefit transfer of Rs 1500 through National Institute of Social Defence reaching less than 1% of the transgender community.

When it comes to the community of transmen, the problem is even more acute because unlike Transwomen of Hijra community, Transmen do not have traditional Gharana system or social support networks as such.

India has passed The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019. Though this law was repressive and much opposed by the Transgender community, it was passed with much fanfare and force. Domestic violence is one area in this Act that is severely lacking.

It’s time to provide the safety of the transgender person from domestic violence. There is a need to set up safe homes for the transgender community so that those who are homeless or cannot stay safely with their families can stay free of cost. It is important to make the night-shelters transgender-friendly so that the homeless transgender persons can find a place to rest with dignity and safety. It’s time to look at our medical and health facilities and how trans-friendly they are as we deal with the Covid crisis.

The existing Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act is family-centric and assumes that natal families are the best places for transgender individuals while not recognizing the Gharanas or other support networks.

Also, the penalties for the abuse of a transgender person are disproportionately lower. It needs no overemphasis that to be truly inclusive there is a need to involve Trans persons in consultations while framing or revising rules concerning Domestic Violence or any other relevant legislation.

Famers, labourers, and even migrants are supported by the governments during the lockdown and unlock phases. The establishment needs to take an honest look at what they have done for the Transgender community, remove the roadblocks, and reach out to the community through financial and food relief support. We do understand that in a pandemic situation it is difficult to cater to all the sections of the society but one must never forget this – the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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