SJW | Day 6: Social Justice and Persons with Disabilities

Grace Banu talks about legal discrimination and social bareers. While there may be changes in society, and some people are able to accept the existence of trans* persons and queer people, there is no readiness to provide rights.

Most of the times, silence is the response from the cis community people. In 2014, as per the NALSA judgement, trans* persons are treated as human. The Transgender Persons Act, though, in the beginning of 2020, does not provide any upliftment for the community people. It is only about welfare schemes, which are very different from rights. It provides no protection rights from physical, mental and verbal abuse. In fact, the punishment for the rape of a trans* person is between 6 months and 2 years, whereas for the cis community, the punishment is 6 years. That is why so many murders and rapes and happening in the trans* community.

During Covid, many trans* and queer people died by suicide, either because of families forcing them to go into therapy, or because of lack of nutrition and medicines. Atrocities keep happening, and the cis community keeps being silent. This is social patriarchy.

It is necessary to have reservation in politics as well. Not enough for political parties to announce that they support trans* persons. They should give the power.

Revathi talks about how everyone suffered during lockdown, but sexworkers and sexual minorities had a worse time of it. It may be true that some people received the Rs 2000 provided during the pandemic, but what is that by comparison with the electricity bills, which ended up being so high?

Many people have lost their houses, even though initially landlords were supposed to not take rent for two months. The packages were provided as if everyone has ration cards.

For people who survive on begging, it is difficult to earn anything because shops do not let them in, because of covid regulations. And the situation is equally difficult for people who survive on sex work.

Representing Karnataka and speaking for sex workers and trans* persons, Sana looks at the petition filed in Karnataka High Court, looking at the implementation of services for trans* community and sex workers in the state. An immediate judgement was given by the Court, that the Karnataka Govt was to look into the matter.

After the judgement, it has not yet been implemented, and it is necessary to pressurize the government to implement this judgement.

The same process could be followed in other states and could be brought to the national level.

Ritu explains the challenges of the Hijra community in UP, from the loss of income through begging and badhai at weddings, to problems faced by those who were forced to stay at home when they were not out to their families and consequently faced violence.

It was difficult to access medical care, of any kind, including pending transition-related interventions.

She emphasizes the amount of violence against queer and trans* people, by the police, in the name of covid protocols. At the same time, there was no way to address the loss of income because of covid.

Kanmani Ray presents a personal narrative of learning to fight back against discrimination. Even in law college, she was openly told while organizing an event, that ‘such people’ are ‘only fit to beg and dance’ and no one there extended solidarity. It was only once she started asserting herself that she found support and realized that this doesn’t matter.

In terms of self-determination, the NALSA judgement was very progressive, Raina Roy explains. After struggles and community protests, NALSA was talking about reservations and equitable facilities. However, in 2021, nothing has been done yet.

In West Bengal, nothing has been deliberately done for the trans* community. Within the law, there is discrimination. Cis women and men have easy access to and celebrate voter id, identity proof etc. They are not answerable to the district magistrate regarding what they are.

During the time of Covid, and the huge crisis it constituted for all, trans* labourers, sex workers, did not have any document or facilities. Until the state, Govt and community do not have the opportunity to act on the judgement, the judgement itself makes little difference.

Chandni speaks of how the struggle for human rights for sexual minorities has been on in Bangalore, starting through Sangama over 20 years back. During the course of time, there have been victories, and now transgender persons have more rights, but not nearly enough.

She talks of how the cultural codes of the community itself make it difficult to look outside for solutions, and only a handful of people find the space in mainstream spaces to talk about trans* issues. While work around HIV places the number of trans* persons in Karnataka at around 25000, data in fact is difficult to come by. A baseline study proposed by the government, with an allocated budget of 70 lakhs may allow for more knowledge of the problems faced by the community, and may lead to specific responses.

She talks of how the movement for rights made it possible for some trans persons to access employment, as radio jockey in her own case, and for others, working in Court, etc. Even there, it is possible to see differences within the community based on caste, language, which are also limitations to the movement.

While she feels that recognition as women has moved forward, the Transgender Persons Act is yet to be implemented. As changes take place, and there is need to push for more, it is important to be part of different forums, and build connections to larger issues.

Kareema, from Andhra Pradesh, talks of the problems faced by trans persons after the beginning of the pandemic, when rations were provided by the government only upon presenting ID proof, like Aadhar card, voter id, ration card, and many people do not have these documents. She explains that schemes for transgender persons cannot be based on ID proof [when it is close to impossible to obtain them].

A trans person very often finds herself alone, able to only rely on herself to make ends meet. Kareema talks about her own experience finishing a beautician course through DAY_NULM, and how she wants to set up her own parlour, for which there is no support from the government, from banks through loans, or from the society in general. It is the responsibility of the government to make such provisions, not just for training but for setting up small enterprises, which will also help inspire and motivate other trans persons who are struggling. Otherwise, without family or societal acceptance, without education and employment opportunities, how is a trans* person to live with dignity?

The fight as of now, she says, only lead as far as the ‘other’ checkbox next to ‘male’ and ‘female’ on documents, but that is not enough. Educational opportunities, training for jobs for older people are essential. When banks say they cannot give loans to transgender persons, how is one to get around that problem?

She also talks about surviving an acid attack in 2010. At that point, she was scared to even register a complaint with the police. Lack of education, constant discrimination, the sense that one cannot move forward in life push many trans persons to suicide.

She also talks about what motivates her, which is to see that other people do not have to, in the future, face the same difficulties that she has had to face.

Praveen identifies as a trans man, member of Sahayatrika. He speaks of the history of Sahayatrika in Kerala, of over a decade, during which they have been part of many protests, and yet the community continues to lack visibility. The media, social media, the government, keep highlighting negative aspects connected to the community. When someone tries to be self-reliant, make a livelihood through it, and they face problems, there usually is someone who wants to talk about it. But when people achieve something, very often through struggle on their own, there is no visibilization to that. Often people choose not to come out as trans, gay, lesbian, queer, because the response or retaliation to that are worrying. And the government provides no support in such instances.

Meera Jasmine brings out the way the lockdown has exacerbated the difficulties that transgender persons from Telangana face. In any case, trans* persons do not have shelter, did not receive ration cards from the Government. After the pandemic started, everything became even more difficult and the government seems intent on ignoring this situation.

She speaks of how the only available means of earning a livelihood are begging and sex work, and sex work subjects people to many horrors. The police try to prevent trans* persons from doing their work. There are also numerous cases of rape.

Meera Jasmine mentions that judgements like NALSA (2014) remain on paper, are not executed by governments, and trans persons are consequently deprived of basic dignity and rights. Politicians only make promises at the time of elections, but otherwise trans* persons have no leverage in health, education, or any other reservations.

While trans persons participated in dharnas leading to the formation or Telangana, once the state was formed, the government forgot them. She asks, pointedly, of the Telangana government if it even recognizes transgender persons as human or not. The basic minimum of providing ration cards and identity documents has not taken place. Welfare committees have not been formed, and when they are, these need to have trans persons on them.

Transgender persons need the opportunity to study, need subsidized health expenditure and subsidies for self-employment. This is the bare minimum the government should provide, keeping in mind the NALSA judgement. Reservations should be given in all respects. And the police needs to stop criminalizing and stigmatizing the entire community.

Her question remains how long the government will choose to stay silent on trans* issues, in spite of rallying and protesting, how long will they continue to not recognize issues and continue to oppress trans persons.

Faisu talks about how it is not only during the time of the pandemic, but even previously, while dealing with different disasters in Kerala, that transgender persons have faced a disproportionate number of problems.

Many trans people they know face difficulties with their families and need to leave their natal homes, if they are not thrown out by their families. They end up living on the street, and being involved in street-level work, and Kerala, unlike the image it presents, is not a place that is supportive of the community.

People are unwilling to give their houses on rent if they know you are a trans* person, and when they do, the rent they charge is much higher than they would otherwise. Transgender persons often do not have jobs, and have no access to other sources of income, subsidies or support, and when they earn through sex-work, their income amounts to 700-900 Rs, out of which they need to pay for shelter, food, daily needs. Even imagining one day of physical comfort, of not having to be out on the streets is impossible.

This is the situation during disasters, and it has been the situation during the very extended period of the lockdown. It is impossible for people to find money for rent and food, when they cannot go out and work. During the pandemic, the Government used the count that the Social Justice Department has to provide small relief packages comprising food to people who are out as transgender persons. But 5 kg of rice and some masalas are not enough to live on for one year of the pandemic, and there is no concern for how trans persons have been pushed further to the margins.

When the matter was taken up in High Court through a complaint raised by the community, the government responded that they did everything for the trans* community. This is also connected to the mechanism through which relief measures are meant to reach the community, often through projects, development interventions, through NGOs, which fundamentally end up enriching those who run the projects and the community gets leftovers from their feast.

While cis-men and women have self-governance to address the benefits that are needed, the same is necessary for trans persons too. In reality, even the ID cards provided to trans people do not carry the government emblem, just the Social Justice department one, as if their lives and citizenship are not like everyone else’s. This in spite of the 2014 NALSA judgement which argues for equal rights and recognition. Institutions across India which are supposed to ensure trans* rights have not come into existence, have not become part of government mechanisms.

The demand is for jobs to be available to trans* persons, so that when someone walks into a government hospital, for example, or in any other institution, they would come across transgender persons just as they come across everyone else. That is why the struggle for the 2% reservation is on, even in a state like Kerala, since otherwise there is no way of moving towards social acceptance.

There is also the reality of movements and struggles for women’s rights, which ignore issues of transgender rights, there is little connection between struggles and that is very necessary.

 

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