Unable to Beg or Solicit, Karnataka’s Trans People Seek Govt Help

Lack of awareness has restricted many trans people from being able to protect themselves against COVID-19.

4 min read
Bengaluru: People stage a demonstration against the Transgenders Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016. Image used for representational purposes. 

It has been over 20 days since Kusuma, a trans woman living in Bengaluru’s Hebbal, has stepped out for work. She earns her daily bread through sex work and begging and the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 across the country is proving to be more difficult for vulnerable groups, especially for members of the transgender community such as Kusuma.

“We are people who eat off what we earn during the day every day. We have no savings as such and struggle to make ends meet. We are scared to step out. There is a lot of suspicion and fear if someone even coughs, but are forced to rely on each other. I had about Rs 5,000 with me two weeks ago, but now I have almost no money left,” said the 27-year-old.

With the primary sources of income for the transgender community such as sex work and begging, frequently battling immense social stigma, impeded, several are struggling. Several trans persons are also HIV positive and are facing issues in accessing their ART treatment and healthy, nutritious food.

Akkai Padmashali, a prominent face of the queer rights movement in Karnataka and the founder of Ondede, a LGBTQIA+ organisation, said the government has failed to protect the rights of the community during a public health crisis. “Special commissioner for Welfare SG Ravindra told us to go and eat at Indira Canteens. That was not mature. For us, even to reach there and stand in queue is a challenge,” she said.

On 1 April, advocates on behalf of Ondede, filed an Impleadment petition in the Karnataka high court in an existing Public Interest Litigation about the restrictions faced by vulnerable groups because of the lockdown.

Advocate Jayna Kothari said the intervention plea sought free of cost ration, provisions including vegetables and fruit to members of the transgender community through ration shops and other outlets. It also asks for free of cost medicines for HIV positive persons and those undergoing hormone therapy, diabetes patients, and a monthly cash payment of Rs 5,000 for six months. Lastly, it includes a request for free LPG cylinders and electricity bills being waived.

“There should be a package of Rs 20 crore. It’s the responsibility of the government. The Bengaluru city corporation has not used allocations of Rs 2 crore for the community over last two years and there have been no awareness drives about coronavirus either.”
Akkai Padmashali

‘HIV Positive People More At Risk’

Brinda, a 32-year-old sex worker in Raichur, north Karnataka, said that HIV positive persons are more affected by the lockdown.

The zilla president of Aptamitra, a queer rights trust, Brinda said that people aren’t able to afford travelling for medicare.

She also raised concerns over HIV positive persons being evicted from their houses over fears that that they are more susceptible to the virus, as their immunity is compromised.

“A one-time trip to another taluk to go to a clinic will cost Rs 300 minimum. There is no way for them to even travel. Most of us have no homes or families to turn to,” she said.

HIV positive people are asked to have a diet of green vegetables, meat and eggs. “Many trans people I know have given up treatment, partly because there was no way to get there and nothing to eat. They are struggling to get rice. Some are surviving on sugar water, and have refused to even leave their rooms, afraid they may have contracted and could spread the virus,” said Brinda.

Lack of Awareness

Lack of awareness, education and opportunities has restricted many members of the community from being able to adequately protect themselves against coronavirus.

As COVID-19 is chiefly spread via mouth and nasal droplets, educating the community is imperative, especially for those involved in sex work, an intimate process. Given that a large proportion of the trans community makes money through sex work, safeguards and preventive measures to educate them on the transmission of coronavirus is lacking.

Additionally, sections of the community also tend to live in groups, in close quarters in one home, enhancing the chances of the disease’s spread, if contracted by anyone.

“Some trans women I know are calling their old clients to their home, desperate to make a quick buck. However, the supply of condoms is limited and so is the knowledge about cornoavirus, apart from what they hear when they make a call or on TV,” said one trans person.

Hiked Expenses & Living on Scraps

“We are the ones who face oppression from the second we decided to stop wearing pants and drape a sari. Life is always hard for us but now there is unprecedented hunger and desperation,” said Madhushri, a trans woman and president of the North Karnataka Jogappa Trust, a pro- LGBTQIA+ group based out of Raichur.

She said bad experiences during begging have made many members of the trans community turn to sex work. Living with the stigma of being queer and living with family rejection prepares them for a life of hardship but where do they go to earn their daily wages, Madhushri asks.

“None of the shops are open, the streets are deserted. For some four days, we were able to survive but nobody is paying us any heed. Raichur district authorities said they will look into it, but nothing has reached us yet. We have also asked for condom supply for people soliciting at home (sic),” she said.

Priya, a 42-year-old social worker with Ondede, said that she has been unable to go work in her parlour since the lockdown. “People anyway turn away when see me but now there is no money at all. Many of us have loans on our heads from loan sharks. I myself have been unable to pay interest on a Rs 3.5 lakh loan. When there is no income and no aid or attention from the government, how will we survive?” she asked.

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