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Pune: With their income dried up, transgender persons across Maharashtra are struggling to survive the COVID-19 lockdown. Many of them don’t have ration cards and are hence unable to get grains at subsidised rates.

Tejaswini, a transgender person from Kolhapur said, “I have nine chelas (proteges) who beg at traffic signals, railway stations, temples, and go to people’s houses. They also do sex work. Earlier, we earned enough to have two meals a day and to take care of our health in case of an illness. But like everybody else, we cannot go out to beg or do sex work due to the lockdown. We don’t have money deposited in our bank accounts.” 

She added, “There are 40 transgender people in this area and only 14 have received free ration. The PDS shopkeepers keep asking others to come next week. Besides, we also need money to buy other essentials like vegetables and grocery. We have given a letter to the district collector to help us and we are waiting for their response.”

Maharashtra has over 40,000 transgender people with the literacy rate of 67.57%, as per the Census 2011. However, after the Supreme Court judgement of 2014 that recognised the third gender, many more have identified themselves as transgender people.

Grace Bhanu, a transgender activist from Tamil Nadu, pointed out that most transgender people don’t have ration cards due to the lack of the documents. She said, “We cannot get food from the PDS system. Many organisations provide food packets to us, but that is not enough. Government should provide ration to everybody who has any kind of ID card.”

Mahesh Pathak, principal secretary (Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection) said that the government is providing grains through PDS. “Also, many NGOs, social organisations are providing food. People can contact their local collector offices to avail the benefits,” he said.

As per a UNDP report, 2.35 lakh transgender persons are HIV positive; many have other illnesses. Due to lack of money and the lockdown, they have been unable to continue the treatment. 

Sanjana Jadhav, a 55-year-old transgender person from Pune, who begs for survival, has recently undergone a knee surgery and has trouble walking. She had to approach an NGO to ask for help as her savings were over. She said, “I need to buy medicines as I recently underwent a surgery. But I don’t know for how long I can take help from friends or organisations?” 

Sanjana, who stays in Hadapsar area of Pune, asked for alms as per a Hindu tradition daily and earned Rs 2000-4000 per week. As she lives by herself, the income was sufficient, she said. Like her, over 10 transgender persons who stay in the same hamlet in Hadapasar beg or do sex work in Budhwar Peth–the red light area of Pune.

She said, “Two of my chelas are HIV positive and have to take antiretroviral drugs from the Sassoon General Hospital, but they are not able to go. Either the police don’t allow them or the transport is not available.”

When enquired about this issue, a police official said, “We have made the process available online and via calls. We give permission to travel intra-city based on the genuineness of the complaint and we don’t see the gender of the applicant. As the number of requests is so big, a few requests only are getting responses.”

Amid the novel coronavirus crisis, the Social Justice Department and Women and Child Development Department have not taken any special measures for the transgender community.  

Chandani Gore, another transgender activist, who also runs an NGO the community explained, “Like we all know, almost all transgender persons have to vacate their parents’ houses as they don’t accept their idenity. They hardly get offered good formal, well-paying jobs. As they are not accepted in mainstream society, they are compelled to beg or do sex work. And no wonder, they don’t earn enough to buy their own houses and stay in rented houses.”

She added, “Many house owners are asking the transgender tenants to vacate the houses. One reason is definitely that we don’t have the rent to pay. But many feel that we might get infected with COVID-19 due to our lifestyle and hence, want us to leave” 

The International Commission of Jurists’ report published in 2019 also mentions the abuse and harassment of the transgender tenants by the house owners and asks the Indian government to address the issue. 

Another transgender person said that the government should have issued ID cards, Aadhar cards, ration cards after the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was passed last year. “So that we would have also got Rs 500 and free ration.”

She added, “Like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra should have founded a transgender welfare board so that we could have platform to convey our issues to. Otherwise, we are just made to run from one department to another.” 

The story was first published at NewsClick!

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