Kavita’s day begins at 7 am in her little house on Hosa Road, on the outskirts of the city. The first thing she does after waking up is pray for a good day ahead. An hour later, she sets off on her journey, meeting hundreds of nameless faces at Bangalore’s traffic signals, who dole out cash when she claps. She mumbles blessings and curses at them. After sunset, she gets picked up by faceless clients at Majestic’s dark subway. At the end of the day, she struggles to wash these memories off her body and mind.
“I have been a sex worker since I was 14. Back then, I did not know that using condoms would keep HIV/AIDS away. But, I am sick now and I will have to live with it till the end,” says Kavita, now 30, a transgender living with HIV since 2004.
She insists that all her customers use condoms when they have sex with her, so that they don’t fall “sick.”
Unlike her contemporaries, Kavita is not receiving Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART). She hasn’t visited an ART centre out of fear that she might be shunned by her family if they learn that she is HIV infected.
“When I walk into the ART centre, people will see me. The last thing I want is my family knowing that I am HIV-infected. Sometimes I fear I might run into some client. My life will be over if that happens,” she said, speaking to Express at the drop-in centre (DIC) run by the Karnataka State Aids Prevention Society (KSAPS) in Jayanagar. The United Nations (UN) in its report “Global update on ART treatment 2013,” by WHO in partnership with UNICEF and UNAIDS, said: “Male, female and transgender sex workers face many challenges in accessing HIV care and treatment, including a fear of adverse consequences, if their HIV status is disclosed along with negative experiences in healthcare settings.” With no treatment, Kavita falls ill every now and then because her CD4 count, which shows the stage of HIV infection, is low. She does not have enough CD4 cells or T-helper cells in her blood that will help her body fight off infections.
When Medicos Turn Their Backs...
Megha, 18, another transgender from Jolly Mohalla in K R Market, narrated her experience of receiving bad treatment from hospital staff while seeking medical help for simple illnesses like fever, cold and sexually transmitted diseases (STI) like gonorrhea and syphilis.
“When we go to big hospitals like Bowring and Lady Curzon or Victoria, the nurses send us away. Sometimes they ask us to go home and return the next day, even when we are seriously ill,” she said. “Many times they refuse to examine us because they feel disgusted to make physical contact with us.”
Counselor K Krishnaiah said that about 50 per cent of transgenders who practice unprotected sex go in for HIV testing and hardly 5-6 per cent comply with ART treatment.
“A man or woman will go into a ART centre and get medicines. But transgenders cannot even clearly explain the reasons why they might have got infected because it is widely attributed only to sex work,” said Krishnaiah, who works for Samara, an NGO.