KOLKATA: As the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic, India's transgender community bore the brunt of the pandemic -- in several cases, alone.
The structurally oppressed community, which lives on the margins, suffered a financial blow after the pan-country lockdown kicked in halting sex work and begging, both key sources of their income.
D Chatterjee, a 29-year-old trans woman from Kolkata, has the responsibility of feeding six mouths at home. Chatterjee, the only breadwinner in her family, lost her job as a dancer at weddings soon after the government of India put a halt to gatherings. The absence of basic documentation including Aadhaar, ration card, voter ID or bank accounts further isolated Chatterjee and her community.
In May last year, at least 2,000 transgender activists had written to the Centre to institute basic monthly income, and ensure access to ration and essential supplies, including medication.
In Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government announced free rations for the transgenders till June 2021, which could be availed through the token system. However, the absence of personal documentation has made it difficult for the community to access such schemes.
H Khantun, a trans woman who used to earn her living from sex work, faced an unprecedented crisis in 2020.
That was until the Population Foundation of India (a national NGO) and Kolkata Rista (an NGO working for trans rights) came together to extend help to her and many others from the city's transgender community.
"During the pandemic, they have struggled to receive financial aid and medical assistance. Population Foundation of India works across the country to reach the most marginalised and vulnerable but the stories we encountered in Kolkata were distressing beyond measure because they stemmed from systemic social discrimination of an entire community," said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India.
Without the help I received, I don't know how I would have fended for my family and myself, Chatterjee, another beneficiary, said.
Over the past year, both the NGOs have extended financial support to at least 400 families and ensured access to basic amenities.
"It is heartening that a mainstream organisation like the Population Foundation of India helped us to reach out to so many in need. I hope this inspires other NGOs to take notice of transgender issues," said Dr Santosh Kumar Giri, spokesperson for Kolkata Rista.