Skip to main content

Extreme discrimination, harassment amidst pandemic: New transgender law failure?

By Adithi Das*

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused hardships among people, and even more so, for the most marginalised groups in the society. At a time when even the more privileged groups began scouring stores for food and medicines, one could realize the plight of the transgender community seeking rations and medicines only to face discrimination and harassment.
As always, shopkeepers sent them away saying the virus cannot get to them. Trans persons are often humiliated when they ask for basic health services in the country, and this has gotten worse during the lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the virus.
As the country went under lockdown, the city-dwelling, college-educated, office-going workforces began switching to the virtual modes of working, and the country saw an unprecedented spike in the sale and use of remote working tools. But when one looks at the possibility of remote work for transsexual persons, one would be dismayed and appalled at the number of possibilities that really exist for the community.
Most trans-persons being engaged in begging and sex work have experienced extreme adversity and complete loss of livelihoods during the lockdown, says Pushpa Achanta of the Solidarity Foundation, an NGO that works with sex workers and sexual minorities in Bangalore.
Even worse outcomes of the lockdown have been when trans persons availing HRT drugs during transitioning and other minorities availing ART medicines for HIV treatment were denied access to these very essential commodities, notwithstanding the fact that the prices of these have skyrocketed since the early 2000s and become prohibitively high during the lockdown.
Perhaps, this is the result of lack of affirmative action in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. The Act has been continually criticised and challenged by activists and lawyers for the numerous discriminatory clauses it contains which are violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution such as: 
  • For transgender persons to change their gender, the Transgender Persons Act enforces the need for a Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in order to change their gender identity to their preferred gender of either male or female. Moreover, the validity of the SRS is decided by the District Magistrate.
  • The Act places restriction on movement with regard to trans persons in separating from their parents and allowing a person to move out only through an order of ‘a competent court’. This has led to division of the community on class lines with only those being able to access the court even having a chance at separating from their family. With widespread discrimination and violence that they face from their immediate family and relatives, moving out of the family has been the need of a large number of trans persons. 
  • Section 18(d)- This section criminalizes violence against transgender persons, but has been reproduced without any changes from previous drafts. In fact, any kind of violence, as much as that which would endanger a trans person’s life is punished by a term of a maximum of 2 years. Sexual abuse rampant against trans persons is also included within the same section. This is in stark contrast to provisions in the IPC that subject rape offence against women to a maximum term of seven years. 
More appalling is the lacklustre state of affairs in terms of affirmative action to provide dignity and equality to the community. A press release by transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex rights activists protesting the passing of the bill in the Jantar Mantar, says, that the Transgender Persons Act 2019 denies reservations and affirmative action for trans, intersex and gender nonconforming people in employment, education, and healthcare.
The provisions of the Act around discrimination have no penalties, and have discriminatory penalties for sexual assault against transgender persons as against that of women. Thus, by not providing reservations and other forms of affirmative action, the Act has failed to create an equitable platform that transgender persons can start to rely upon to effectively improve the quality of their lives.
Provisions of the Act around discrimination have no penalties, and have discriminatory penalties for sexual assault against transgender persons as against that of women
Applying the same lack of affirmative action in representation and identification of trans persons in hospitals and health centres, we observe that it is often reflected in the absence of trans-specific wards. Gender binaries of male and female wards restrict trans persons from accessing healthcare on a daily basis. Trans rights advocates claim that many trans persons routinely die in hospitals due to delays in hospital admission procedures.
According to the UNDP India report, “Hijras/Transgender Women in India: HIV, Human Rights and Social Exclusion”:
“The estimated size of MSM (men who have sex with men) and male sex worker populations in India (latter presumably includes Hijras/TG communities) is 2,352,133 and 235,213, respectively. No reliable estimates are available for Hijras/TG women. HIV prevalence among MSM populations was 7.4% as against the overall adult HIV prevalence of 0.36%. Until recently, Hijras/transgender people were included under the category of MSM in HIV sentinel sero-surveillance. Recent studies among hijras/transgender (TG) women have indicated a very high HIV prevalence (17.5% to 41%) among them.”
The trans community is one of the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country, most of them having barely any access to healthcare. Also, they are one of the most under-nourished communities and their health levels are lower than average citizens, which makes them even more susceptible to the corona virus infection.
As Pushpa Achanta says, most of the community members are working-class people and thus, can’t afford the privilege of social distancing if they were to get back to work. To that end, Solidarity Foundation offers grants and scholarships to gender minorities and other minority groups so that they could get training to do some kind of remote work.
Such forms of simple affirmative action can create a world of difference towards ensuring alternate means of sustainable income for these people. It is important to realize that there are multiple minority identities in the country and gender minorities are often in the intersections of multiple identities, further aggravating the case of deprivation and marginalization.
What can thus be done to improve healthcare accessibility for trans community during the pandemic is to educate them about the health risks that they are currently exposed to, and work towards making relevant health advisory available in all languages.
Hospitals and health centres must have wards earmarked for trans persons, so that neither they are denied admission, nor does confusion arise for health workers. The key is to foster inclusion of this highly marginalized and deprived community in accessing health services that the government is freely giving away to citizens, and this can only be done when hospital administrators, local administration and elected representatives take affirmative action towards making healthcare “trans-friendly”. Also, policy interventions such as including trans persons in the Ayushman Bharat scheme are desperately needed in order to make inclusion a reality.
---
*Second-year MBA student at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen