Wajood: My Strength Is My Identity

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Mita, a transgender from Karnataka, was admitted in a local hospital in Raichur as she was suffering from appendicitis-related pain. However, she was denied treatment, because she was transgender and allegedly in sex work. Humiliated and horrified, she killed herself by taking sleeping pills.

Tripti, a transgender woman from Gujarat, had been in a relationship with her boyfriend for more than five years and was in love with him. Sadly the boyfriend’s parents had rejected this relationship. One day, his parents asked her to visit them. She went but never came back; her body was found a few days later with several marks of violence on it. Her boyfriend is missing, and his parents are insisting that the incident be reported as suicide. The police are awaiting the post-mortem report.

Such cases of violence are a predominant and frightening reality for transgenders living in India. Social stigma and violence against transgenders are not only pervasive but also perpetrated through existing social institutions, such as family, the education system and healthcare. Most cases are not reported, and no support system exists to help transgender people address these issues. Transgenders are routinely denied their basic rights and face challenges that undermine their social welfare. The problem is further compounded by a lack of awareness in transgender communities about their legal rights.

To address these issues, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, which has substantial experience in transgender communities, has initiated a new programme called Wajood, which means “existence” in Hindi. The programme started in November 2015 and is being supported by Amplify Change, which is a collaborative donor initiative to empower people to realize their sexual and reproductive health rights. Wajood supports transgenders in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat through community system strengthening, violence mitigation, access to sexual health, linkages to social welfare services, and policy advocacy. The programme endeavours to help transgenders enhance their self-image and create a positive outlook.

Safeguarding the rights of transgenders who have been victims of violence and helping them get justice are major areas of work for Wajood. The programme is using REAct, a human rights reporting tool developed by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and used in India for the first time to documenting crisis cases and rights violations. This documentation will help ensure prompt and appropriate action by Wajood staff and will create a body of evidence to influence policy change.

As a new programme, the work is only just beginning for Wajood to ensure equality for transgenders in India. We must all stand together to protect our rights. On May 28, this year’s International Day of Action for Women’s Health, let us not forget that transgender women are women too, and step forward to stop the marginalization of transgenders and act to protect their physical and mental wellbeing.

The author of this post, Amitava Sarkar, a transgender activist, is on the Wajood programme team at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

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