It started with a Facebook post by a transgender who said she had no food to eat due to the lockdown imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was followed by a more disturbing post by another transgender who claimed she had resorted to “sex work” to raise money for food. These messages completely shocked Reena Rai, Founder of, Deepa Ardhnarishwar Empowerment Foundation. And she decided to do something about it. With no support coming from anywhere, Rai decided to help the transgender community from her own pocket.“I am thankful that my husband understood my feelings. He has given me a substantial part of his monthly salary to feed the transgenders,” says Rai.
Similarly, trans-woman Harshini Mekala, who works as an HR executive in Jones Long LaSalle (JLL), has been helping the community members with the donations she manages to collect from her circle of friends and her contacts in the film industry. “Though the government has extended help, it is grossly inadequate,” says Mekala, who played Bindiya in Badlav, a production by the Hyderabad-based theatre group, The Unknown Pen. She adds that it is heartbreaking to see many from the community able to manage only one meal per day.
This is the sad reality that while a number of NGOs and corporates are feeding the poor, distributing masks, and other essential items, the trans community has been largely overlooked. There is no organized help coming to them from any quarter. “Transgenders do not get support from their family or any help from society,” says Mekala. It’s mostly the members helping each other.
Moreover, the challenges are many. Firstly, the problem is not just limited to food. Some of them are HIV+ and require medicines on a daily basis, but no help seems to be arriving on that account.“Those of us who have undergone sex-change surgery has to be under estrogen hormones. One-shot for a month costs around Rs 1,200,” says Naaz Joshi, a trans-rights activist, and a motivational speaker, also India’s first transgender international beauty queen.
Helping hand, at this end, has been extended by trans-woman Amruta Soni who works closely with HIV+ people in Bihar & Jharkhand. She regularly supplies medicines for such patients, ensuring no doses are missed.
“There are about 100 trans-genders here, and the situation is pathetic. There is no help coming from either the government or any NGO or corporate. It is just some philanthropic people who are individually helping the community,” says Fiza, a transgender from Amroha.
“We gave Rs 1,500 to each of the 6,000 transgenders having a bank account, while those without bank accounts were given money through the district administration,” says Arvind Kathuria, Deputy Director, National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. “We have also started a mental health helpline manned by experienced psychologists for the community. The number of calls we are getting is slowly increasing,” he adds.
“They are facing a lot of psychological issues. Now that they are home-bound 24 hours a day, they are facing harsh comments from family and others in the neighborhood,” informs Kathuria.
Providing jobs is the key
“Despite being Miss World Diversity three times, I have no job. I am dependent on donations. You can imagine the condition others would be in,” says Joshi. “Managing finances is difficult. Most of my trans-sisters lived on daily earnings, either by prostitution or begging. With all that shut they have no options left,” she says, adding it is time the community is included in the mainstream workforce. Proper education and jobs for the trans community members is something that Joshi has been advocating for long.