NEW DELHI: Like most other transgenders, Chandini earned her living by begging in trains or dancing in celebrations such as childbirths and weddings but the prolonged lockdown has halted passenger railway services and all social occasions, and with it her earnings.
Now, the 42-year-old, an acute diabetic, has to choose whether to spend the little money she has buying food or medicines.
"I used to make at least Rs 500 every day. It was not much, but enough to help me make ends meet. Since the lockdown, with no income, I do not have money," Chandini said.
Pushed to the sidelines of society with few doing mainstream jobs, several of India's 4.88 lakh transgenders are struggling to survive by borrowing from others.
Chandini has borrowed Rs 4,000, hoping it will see her through till the shutdown ends next month.
Movement of people, except those associated with essential and emergency services, has been restricted under the lockdown till May 3 and everybody has been asked to stay at home to break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus that has claimed 590 lives and infected 18,601 people in the country.
Rashmi, another transgender, who earned her livelihood by begging on roads at Sector -16 in Noida, said people would at least give her leftover food from their cars, if not money.
"Now, I am locked at home. If not the coronavirus, then hunger will kill me," the 34-year-old said.
The transgender population in India is around 4.88 lakh and most members of the community are involved in begging at traffic signals and in trains, dancing at weddings and sex work to earn their livelihood, according to organisations that works for their welfare.
The biggest lockdown in the world has taken away all their means of earnings, and though the government is giving Rs 1,500 as relief to transgenders, many of them do not have the required documents to get the money, they said.
"Most members from the transgender community earn on a daily basis. The government has given them Rs 1,500 but what can they get from this Rs 1,500. For giving this Rs 1,500, authorities are asking for identity cards, bank account numbers, which they don't have," Pushpa, founder of community-based organisation 'Nai Bhor', said.
She said people have been doing "social distancing" with the community for the past "1,100 years" by discriminating.
Discrimination is everywhere whether healthcare or education, Pushpa said, claiming that even now, in this time of crisis, the government is not bothered about the community.
Disha Kene, another transgender, said, "Even if members of the community have dry ration there are other needs that have to be met like medicines, which is not been thought about."
"The community does not have any savings and their means of livelihood is to earn today and spend that money. Milk and medicines. They do not have money to buy these," she said.
A member from the community who is HIV positive is particularly worried about getting critical medicines.
"I have a stock of medicines for now. But if the situation worsens in the coming days, I do not know how I will manage," she said.
NGOs and activists have demanded that the government integrate concerns of the transgender community in all their policy and strategy for disaster mitigation in view of the coronavirus outbreak.
They also said the matter is particularly urgent as the community's members are perceived to be at a high risk of contracting HIV and that many are possibly into substance use which is very harmful in the current situation.
In an appeal to the government, the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), a non-profit organisation, and its partner Sakha said transgenders must be included as a group in all policies and actions devised for disaster mitigation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Just when we were beginning to work systematically with the government and all key stakeholders to build a supportive policy framework and an enabling environment for social acceptance and inclusion of transgenders across services and entitlements, this pandemic has again brought to the forefront the high cost of social exclusion and gender inequality," CFAR Executive Director Akhila Sivadas said.
Concurring with the concern of CFAR, Meera Parida, co-founder of Sakha, said, "The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed us back to those times when we were struggling to come to terms with our identity, get heard and save ourselves from life-threatening challenges like HIV."
In the context of the raging novel coronavirus pandemic, she urged the government to integrate the concerns of transgenders in all policies and strategies.
Parida said that "as a transgender, one has to be more prepared to avert the risk of getting infected by a coronavirus and this is particularly urgent as the group is perceived as being at high risk of contracting the HIV and that many are possibly into substance use, which is very harmful in the present context".