A year and a half of Covid-19 have changed the pre-determined ‘normal’ before the pandemic. For some, it’s taken a toll more than others: People who have lost ones to the virus, and the ones who have lost income and support systems as the pandemic distanced people - even emotionally. For Kolkata’s trans-community, the year has been particularly hard. An already marginalized and low-income group, they found their sources of income drying out and found themselves stuck in lockdown with often abusive family members.
“Transpeople had to face both mental and physical torture during the lockdown while being forced to stay at home. People below the age of 18, who were completely dependent on their families, were kicked out. They didn’t have a place to live: Some slept in railway stations and footpaths and some got trafficked,” Ranjita Sinha, secretary of Gokhale Road Bandhan and Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal (ATHB) tells News18.
For the financially independent before lockdown, they saw their sources drying out. “The lockdown restricted vehicle movement and members of the trans community, some of who relied on begging or sex work, lost their only source of income. Transpeople who had previously been shunned from society and their families, and lived on their own, failed to pay their rents, and sometimes got kicked out," Sinha adds.
While the pandemic caused a worldwide health crisis, the community’s medical woes have also increased since the start of the pandemic. Already facing harassment while seeking medical care before the pandemic, especially at government-run facilities, transpeople were turned away from healthcare centres.
Manobi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal, was allegedly denied a Covid-19 RT-PCR test at a government hospital in Kolkata earlier this month. Bandyopadhyay had also alleged that she was called “mental" and was “shooed away" by the hospital staff.
To counter this, during the first lockdown in April last year, Sinha and her group managed to reserve 10 beds for the members at MR Bangur Hospital, run by the West Bengal government. A transwoman herself, Sinha had convinced the Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Chandrima Bhattacharya to create a separate ward for transgenders so that they feel at ease while undergoing treatment. She says, “Following the set up of the ward, I had urged Chandrima Bhattacharya to extend the service to rural areas as well."
Sinha and her organization have been helping transpeople who have been kicked out, are not able to pay rent, or are without a source of income. Sinha’s organization has also seen a barrage of support that has aided the community’s survival during the lockdown.
The Gokhale Road Bandhan has been able to help transpeople in the state get employment and better medical facilities. A pan-India food chain has started employing members of the community, while a private medical hospital has agreed to provide clinical support to them.
“I have seen doctors, engineers, entertainers, my social media followers and people who love the LGBTQ+ community come forward throughout the lockdown and help us through ration, medicines, money," she added.