International Transgender Day of Visibility: Visibility Matters!

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img_415031st March is observed as ‘International Trans Remembrance Day’ across the globe to voice transgender issues, salute transgender leaderships and engage in policy reforms towards creating an enabling environment.

In Indian mythology, trans people are found in various Hindu texts, such as Mahabharata. Census study in 2011, reports there are more than 4.9 lakh (.4 million) adult transgender person and 50,000 transgender children.

More than a decade long advocacy, revolutions & community mobilisations created a huge impact in created historical advocacy reform. On 15th April 2014, The Supreme Court of India acknowledged the ‘third gender’ in the country which resulted in the establishment of the ‘Rights of the Transgender Bill’ in September 2019. Despite these developments over the years, a lot of work needs to be done with grass-root level transgender communities to ensure dignity, gender equality and social inclusion.

The transgender community is more diverse in the Asia region and particularly in India since we have serval identities associated with religious followings, gender expressions, and social-ethnic cult. Each gender expression is having its unique issues, needs, and vulnerabilities.

Countries like India have used HIV resources to advocate human rights, community empowerment, and leadership qualities. However, the common immediate issues concerning transgender people are associated with low health-seeking behaviour due to healthcare stigma, gender-based violence, lack of supportive policies for employment & education and also lack of equality in civil rights.

The political will to address the immediate issues of a transgender person in India is slowly increasing however the pace of the change is not up to the mark. There is a substantial amount of transgender population who live below the poverty line, without basic identity documents asserting their gender expressions and in crisis. Young transgender persons are facing specific challenges on support for ‘gender transition’, employment, education, partner violence, and financial stability. Whereas the middle age and older transgender people are suffering because of the lack of ‘social support’, mental health issues, substance abuse dependency and also acute depression anxieties.

The situation is changing, the social lives of transgender persons are improving due to the positive demonstration of leadership among Indian transgender activist & professionals. India is reported to be the first country to give ‘Padmashree’ (highest civilian award for extraordinary achievements) to Ms. Nartaki Nataraj, Bharatnatyam dancer from Tamilnadu for her contribution to the art & culture.

Ministry of Social Welfare has recently announced ‘skill-building’ courses leading to employment and has circulated expression of interest for the ‘Shelter Home’ across the country to provide support for the transgender person in crisis. Several initiatives such as ‘RISE’ who advocate the employment of the LGBTI people are now helping the young aspirational transgender persons to get employed in the corporate sector. However, there is a need for ‘BIG PUSH’ without disturbing the existing support systems & cultures of the transgender community in India.

The recent COVID19 outbreak has adversely affected the life of transgender persons. Skill-building courses initiated by National Institute of Social Defense (NISD) were halted in between and the new courses have been postponed. Transgender person & hijra community members who were surviving on sex work, begging and traditional ritual of blessing ceremony called ‘Badhai’ do not have an opportunity to earn and are in precarious conditions. Most of them stay in slum areas, eat low nutritious food and with bad hygiene quality makes themself more vulnerable to infections.

The literacy level among communities at the grass-root level is limited and hence they have limited knowledge on COVID19 prevention methods. There are lots of myths and misconceptions. Several transgender people are stuck in other states due to the ‘lockdown’ situation and are left with no

resources. Some were admitted for the ‘gender surgeries’ and are now alone in hospital without any care.

However, we have observed unique leadership and in-community support to deal with COVID-19 in India on this ‘Trans Remembrance Day’. Transgender community members are gathering resources for each other and providing support for food and shelter. The community members are not only supporting other transgender people but they are also providing food and shelter for other needy general poor people. Activist and community leaders are educating other community members on prevention methods and precautions on COVID-19 in rural districts as well. The groups & networks across India have collaborated and submitted a ‘Petition’ to Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India and also Ministry of Social welfare & Justice.

In these desperate times, the community is demonstrating huge strength of ‘togetherness’ & ‘humanitarian work. These attempts will go a long way in mainstreaming community issues and also work towards a more ‘gender-inclusive society’ in the future.

As one of the prominent global activist & senior officers of Alliance India, Ms. Simran Shaikh articulates, “Not many understand that there is huge cost with visibility. However, during these difficult times, Transgender people in India are showcasing that visibility can be used to blur the lines associated with gender discrimination with our humanitarian work!” Today ‘Trans Visibility Day” is special because we are visible and there to support!

Written by Abhina Aher, Associate Director: Sexuality, Gender & Rights at Alliance India

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