Does My Community Count?

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As I stood on the podium at Indraprastha University in New Delhi, I was expected to tell my personal story as a hijra who is also a successful professional. Since TEDx talks are made by inspiring people, I was all geared to tell my story in which I struggled, stumbled, and finally succeeded. My struggles with identity and gender and my work on HIV/AIDS were complex subjects to squeeze into ten minutes, but they are stories worth telling.

As I began the talk, for some reason I thought of my sisters who are no more: the ones lost to HIV and those who could not survive the violence and transphobia my community often faces. I changed the course of my talk. I decided to steer away from my personal story and talk about my community at large. As a hijra working on HIV/AIDS issues of men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender and hijra communities; stigma is not just part of a personal experience but an issue I advocate against professionally. I lead Pehchan, a national HIV prevention programme implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance.

So instead of my own story, I spoke of the cases of transphobia, violence, and even murder are daily realities for my community. Despite legal recognition of the third gender by the Supreme Court of India on 15 April 2014, the journey to equality is still an uphill climb. When a trans person or a hijra is also HIV-positive, the double stigma drives them even further away from a life of dignity and equality.

ART centres are not sensitised to the needs of my community. A trans person or hijra stands out when in a public place. When this visibly “different” person reaches an ART centre, the focus becomes the identity of the person instead of her clinical needs. Counsellors do not know how to help due to their typically rudimentary understanding of gender and identity issues.

For a community highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, the barriers to services remain dangerously high. We still struggle every day for basic human rights. India’s HIV response cannot leave us behind. It’s time we all count!

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The author of this post, Abhina Aher, is a Programme Manager: Pehchan at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

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