KOCHI: Members of the transgender community, who are shunned generally in the job market due to their sexual orientation, have been hit badly after the pandemic outbreak . Though the State Human Rights Commission and various bodies had initiated measures to stabilise the lives of transpeople, they have taken the community nowhere
The pandemic has hit the employment market hard leading to job losses and salary cuts and the worst affected, arguably, are the members of the transgender community, according to experts. Majority of them have managed to make both ends meet by seeking help from outside and now they have reached a point where they can no longer do so.
Since many of them have been ostracised by their families, housing and everyday living have become a real problem for the community. Though the State Human Rights Commission and various bodies had initiated measures to stabilise their lives, the projects have taken them nowhere, leaving majority of them helpless and at the mercy of others. A few of them, who live in the government’s shelter homes, say they are turned away at the interviews, since they are from the transgender community, and if they want to obtain jobs, they should be ready to ‘compromise’.
SHELTER HOMES OFFER MENIAL JOBS
The coordinator at the government shelter home in Thrikkakara, Sr Teslin, said they give temporary jobs of cooking and cleaning. “Since we have to give these jobs on contract to someone outside, we decided to offer them to the inmates themselves so that it would be a small support to them, to at least pay their phone bills,” she said. The task of cooking has been divided among the five of the inmates, said Sr Teslin, who takes care of the home. The government home offers a monthly salary of Rs 10,000 for cleaning and Rs 12,000 for cooking.
TEMPORARY SHELTERS WON’T RESOLVE
Kerala started shelter homes for transmen and transwomen separately in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi recently. Most of them are either expelled from their families after they publicly revealed their identities or left their homes to search for jobs, as they wanted to keep their identity. The students are allowed to stay there, as they do not have an income and the others are allowed to stay for three months. The short stay can be extended for some more months, according to their social conditions. However, these homes are not a permanent shelter for the community members.
Some of the transwomen living in the city say that their job chances are grim. While the educated ones are hunting for jobs, those who are continuing their studies face complete ostracisation. Alena, one of the inmates at the government shelter home in Thrikkakara, said people like her are either turned away or have to compromise to enter a new job. This ill-treatment from the prospective employers have forced them to sit idle at the homes or keep waiting for an opportunity.
“There are people who offer jobs, but they will have further demands, especially targeting our sexuality. Some of the employers have openly asked us to ‘compromise’ if we needed the job. These kinds of approaches are only made towards transpersons, and not towards a male or female candidate who appears for an interview,” said Alena. Asked why they do not complain about such incidents, her answer was a smile. She added: “If we go on complaining about every incident like this or a misbehaviour from employers, we will have to sit at police stations the entire day.”
Shriya, another transwoman, said most transpeople in the state are now left without proper employment in these pandemic times. “Everyone wishes to go out and work. However, when we go out and seek employment, people are not willing to offer the same job that they offer a man or a woman. Even if they are ready to offer, there would be more conditions. Some will say ‘we’ll see’ and won’t call later. I have been left without a job for the past two-and-a-half years,” she said.
Many people from the transgender community say, while the educated ones are searchilng for jobs, students face complete ostracisation. Though the government is offering training programmes, they don’t guarantee employment for the attendees.
Corporation ready to help
Kochi Mayor M Anilkumar said though there are multiple obstacles to resolving the issues of the transgender community in the city, the corporation is ready to support. “On several occasions, when members of the transgender community met with issues related to their rights and living, we could successfully intervene and help them. However, to find a permanent solution to their employment and housing problems, several factors have to be considered, and the corporation cannot take a decision on its own. We are ready to organise a comprehensive discussion involving all stakeholders and reach a consensus on the same,” said the mayor.
NATIONAL RIGHTS PANEL’S FINDINGS
The National Human Rights Commission has found in a study related to the pandemic that a majority of the LGBTQ community was forced to live in abject poverty and social exclusion. It further states that a large section of the community was engaged in begging and sex work, both of which have been severely affected by the pandemic. In Kerala, the State Human Rights Commission had filed a case on the plight of jobless people in the transgender community, during the tenure of former chairman P Mohan Das. The case is still under study and a report is sought, according to commission officials.
‘WE NEED WORK, NOT JUST TRAINING’
Sampath, coordinator of Amigos, a collective of transmen based in Thiruvananthapuram, who is also a caretaker at the government home for transmen there, says training from the government or the NGOs alone is not enough to support the community. They need jobs since they do not have any other sources of income.
The transpeople say the government should initiate some programmes to empower members of the community. Though there are projects, they do not guarantee them any jobs or security. So, in effect, even after skilling or upskilling, they are left in the same position they were in.
“One of the main issues that we face is that many of us are not professionally qualified. Only a few have a degree. So, the opportunities are fewer. Most of us could not complete our studies due to pressure from the families, and when we are left alone, funding for studies and training becomes difficult. So, instead of offering training, if the government can find ways of employment, that would be a great relief for the community,” said Sampath.
“There are eight to nine transwomen in this home currently. None of us has been having a proper job for all these pandemic days. People are forced to turn to sex work when they are left without a decent job. Some who were kind enough had told me not to reveal my identity and apply as a ‘female’, then I could be selected. Just because I am a transwoman, I am turned away from many textile shops and fancy stores from the job of a salesperson,” Shriya said.