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The Invisible Community Fighting an Invisible Enemy

India has now been in a government-mandated lockdown for over twenty days. During this time, the news has seen a man drinking milk spilled on the road along with street dogs, migrants gathering in hundreds in Bandra following false rumours of free transportation, and starving daily-wage workers crowding near the banks of Yamuna. Among these, the transgender community is one of the worst victims.

Economic Impact on Trans and Non-Binary Folk

A large part of the trans community depends on begging and sex work to sustain their livelihoods. A decreased income pushes the community into living in slums, where self-isolation is incredibly difficult. Trans sex workers are starving, with many of them formerly being dependent on free groceries provided by vegetable vendors that they no longer have access to. It is not clear if the $22.5bn relief package will aid sex workers, as it is currently illegal to commercialise sex in India. Trina Talukdar, co-founder of Kranti, a project that empowers sex workers in Mumbai, stated that there was no relief being provided for them at the moment. Maya Urmi Aher, a transgender woman and rights activist told the Thomas Reuters Foundation, “There is talk about aid for labourers, the poor, but why is no-one talking about us?” she said. “We are just invisible to everybody.” The trans community is at an increased risk of poverty and illness during this lockdown, with most folks without the privilege of proper access to medication. Many trans people depend on a regular dose of sex hormones to help cope with dysphoria. Without access to hormone therapy, they can feel increasingly depressed and anxious. Many of them are worried about hormone stocks in hospitals and the availability of doctors and healthcare workers to administer the dosage.

Socio-Political Impact on the Community

Due to the lockdown, many queer students have had to go back to their homes from their college campuses. For some, this also means going back to the metaphorical ‘closet’, pretending to be cis-het, and suffering abuse if they choose to be authentic to their personalities.

For many trans persons, this can mean stopping hormone treatment. Additionally, on March 11, more than 100 LGBTQ and LGBTQ-supportive organisations in the United States released a joint open letter urging people to be aware that the LGBTQ community may be at greater risk of contracting the virus than the general public. This is due to the popular use of tobacco and high rates of HIV within the queer community. These weaken the immune system, thus putting queer folk at a greater risk.

Moreover, trans folk are often misgendered, mistreated and discriminated against by healthcare workers, thus making them reluctant to seek help if they do exhibit symptoms of the Coronavirus. The Bahujan trans community is at a double- disadvantage. The consequences of Coronavirus have helped intensify slurs against the tribes considered ‘untouchable’. Lower-caste people living in crowded slums have the least access to food and medicine, and the highest probability of contracting the virus or being persecuted during the lockdown. Dalits comprise a large number of essential workers. They are engaged as sanitation workers, often employed in manual scavenging or cleaning streets, while being paid much less than the bare minimum for their work. Ninety percent of sanitation workers employed in India are Dalits, as claimed by a 2017 study conducted by Dalberg Advisors. They often do extremely hazardous work with minimal protective gear and are at an increased risk of exposure to the virus.

Most of the aid being provided to the poor are coming from non-profits and philanthropists. You can help assist trans people in the fight against COVID 19 by donating to this fundraiser: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-q05ZTniBt/. If you do not have the financial capacity to donate, please share this link with as many people as possible- every contribution helps.

Srishti Uppal

Delhi South '22

Srishti Uppal is an eighteen-year-old poet and essayist from Delhi, India. Her work has appeared in Marías at Sampaguitas, Nymphs Publications, The Royal Rose and Crepe and Penn, among others. She is a first-year student pursuing psychology honours. You can find more of her work on her blog: chaosandcalculation.wordpress.com and her Instagram: @srishtiuppal_
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