‘Discriminated, Worried’: India’s Trans-persons on COVID-19 Crisis

Discrimination, lack of healthcare facilities, etc have left the trans-community worried amid coronavirus outbreak.

Published
Gender
3 min read

Video Editor: Varun Sharma, Mohd Ibrahim

Discrimination, lack of healthcare facilities and impact of livelihood have left the trans-community in India worried amid the 21-day nationwide lockdown, imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

"A friend of mine, a self-identifying transgender person, went to a pharmacist and asked for a hand sanitizer. The shopkeeper maked fun of her and said, 'How can you people also get the virus?' She was humiliated," says Rudrani Chhetri, who also identifies as a transgender and is a rights activist.

Chhetri's friend, however, is not alone.

The entire community faces discrimination when it comes to basic healthcare and it only gets worse during a pandemic, explains Dr Aqsa Shaikh, a medical practitioner who identifies as a trans-woman.

"When it comes to an outbreak-like situation in terms of coronavirus, when many patients are competing for limited healthcare resources, then naturally, one of the groups that get the least priority, in terms of access and availability of healthcare facilities, would be the transgender groups," says Dr Shaikh.

Are Trans Lives More At Risk Due to COVID-19?

Yes, because most trans-persons have lower levels of immunity, says Dr Shaikh, who works as an assistant professor at Jamia Hamdad Hospital in New Delhi.

“Specifically speaking about the effect of coronavirus infection on transgender persons, we need to understand that a lot of transgender persons are having, let’s say, lower levels of health as compared to the general population, because of the neglect to their own physical and mental health.” 
Dr Aqsa Shaikh

Many community members may be on hormones, while some are also at a higher risk of being HIV+, this makes them more susceptible to contract the coronavirus, she added.

As Bittu Kartik, a faculty member at Ashoka University points out, social distancing by itself is a “privileged idea” and that the concept by itself will leave a lot in the transgender communities without employment.

“A majority of the transgender community like a majority of non-transgender community is working class. The idea of social distancing and working from home are very, very privileged ideas and this will essentially render a lot of people in transgender communities hungry and unable to sustain themselves.”
Bittu Kartik, Faculty member at Ashoka University

What Can Be Done?

LGBTQI activist Bappaditya Mukherjee called for separate isolation wards for people belonging to the trans community. He adds that trans-people could die when there is delay in deciding whether they should be put in male or female wards.

“If in the separation wards they have the male-female binaries and there is no centre for trans-women or trans-men, then it becomes extremely difficult to access that kind of healthcare. Many trans-people die from this sheer delay.
Bappaditya Mukherjee, LGBTQI activist

Members of the community also feel that it would make a great difference if the coronavirus testing centres declared themselves as ‘trans-friendly.’

“We will have to try and educate the less privileged trans-persons and everyone else, and that is going to happen when we try to make the healthcare system far more inclusive, far more friendly and, at this point, make all this information accessible in multiple languages. And if we know for a fact that all these testing centres openly declare themselves as trans-friendly, that is going to make a hell of a lot of difference.”
A Ray, Student, Delhi University

As on 9 April, India has over 5,700 people who have tested positive for coronavirus and at least 166 deaths recorded due to the pandemic.

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