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Stigma, hunger, disease: Transgenders battle for survival in lockdown

Srinagar: Part of the milling crowd, Abdul Salaam (name changed), 45-year-old transgender, jostled to get hold of the relief material at Srinagar deputy commissioner’s office.

Since lockdown, he was not only devoid of his due but neglected deliberately given his gender. “Is it my fault that I was born differently? Even in times like these, nobody wants to come forward and render any help. I curse the day I was born,” he said in a heavy voice.

Abdul Salaam, who is a diabetic and hypertensive, used to earn his livelihood by arranging marriages. With his worsening health conditions, he is not in a position to make the ends meet.

“I have exhausted all my savings on medicines. For meals and other daily essentials, there are some kind neighbours and acquaintances who help me out,” he said.

Abdul Salaam is not an isolated case. 27-year-old transgender, Showkat, who lives with his critically ill mother is battling the most difficult fight of his life. Showkat used to earn his livelihood by singing and dancing at weddings and engagement ceremonies.

“A few days back, I had nothing in my house. Not a morsel to eat. It was after I called up my friends, who got me in touch with an organization and help was delivered,” he said.

Similarly, Nisar Ahmad (name changed), a 35-year-old matchmaker living in Dalgate, has been unwell for the last few days. “I want to see a doctor but public transport is off roads. Will anyone give me a lift? Yes, there is a threat of the virus but I believe, for the society, I am a bigger threat given my identity,” he said.

The coronavirus lockdown in Kashmir has left the minuscule transgender community at heightened risk of poverty and ill health. Conservative estimates put the number of transgenders at around 3000 in Kashmir.

Chairman Peoples Social and Cultural Society Kashmir, Rafi Razaqi said the already discriminated group has been rendered even more marginalized under the double jolt of disease and social distancing.

He noted a large number of transgenders do not have basic documentation, including Aadhaar, ration card, voter ID, or bank account.

“Therefore, they remain outside the coverage of government social security schemes like rations and pensions, making it impossible to survive in these difficult times,” Rafi said.

He pointed out that they do not have the social privilege of operating within a distant ‘online’ world.

“Most of them are illiterate and don’t even have basic facilities. Their lives are precariously balanced on the thread of social interaction and functions,” Rafi said.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC). Srinagar, Syed Hanief Balkhi said they will take cognizance of the matter.

“The transgender community can come with their grievances from 3 to 5 pm on Monday. We will try to deliver help at the earliest,” he said.