Transgender community grapples with virus fears and social stigma in Bengaluru | Bengaluru News – Times of India

BENGALURU: Rani is HIV-positive and confined to her singleroom rented accommodation in Shantinagar. She is on antiretroviral drugs which she receives from government hospitals for free but the medication has to be complemented with a nutritious diet. Before the lockdown she made a living by begging on the streets and managed a good meal every once in a while. Now, with no earnings, she is close to starving.
Marginalised at the best of times, the transgender community in Bengaluru has been left without livelihood, food and even shelter in the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. Fear of Covid has added to the prevailing stigma, they say, and since many cannot afford to pay rent on time, eviction is rampant.

“I have been living in a single-room accommodation for over two years now and have been paying Rs 3,000 as monthly rent. Suddenly, in May, the owner comes and screams at me, saying people like me are the reason Covid is spreading rapidly in Bengaluru,” said Saroja, a transgender sex worker from Ulsoor. “He accused me of meeting multiple people and possibly being a carrier.” Saroja has been living at her friend’s place since. “We live on the food distributed by volunteers on the streets. We manage two meals a day somehow,” she said.
For many like Saroj and Rani, food distribution in different parts of the city by volunteers is the only thing keeping them away from hunger and starvation in the lockdown. The state government is yet to provide any relief fund for the community, and survival is becoming tougher by the day.
“Fear of the virus has kept their clients at bay and the lockdown has confined them to their homes. Fearing police action, they cannot venture out to seek alms,” said Shubha Chacko of Solidarity Foundation, an NGO working for the welfare of sex workers and the LGBTQ community. “Many members of the transgender community have been pushed into abject poverty this lockdown, with no money to buy food or medicine.”
“In Bengaluru, there are close to 3,500 transgenders and another section of floating people who come and go from other states,” said Veena from Magadi Road, who is now part of a study by the foundation on the plight of transgender people in the lockdown. “Many are in a bad shape, physically and mentally due to the lockdown. Barring a handful who are employed, transgenders are mostly forced to seek alms or become sex workers. The lockdown has left them with little by way of sustenance,” she said, adding the alienation has only got worse.
Apart from the struggle for food and accommodation, lack of money to buy medicines and delay in vaccination is a big crisis for the community. “There are people on hormone treatment who need to buy medicines and those on HIV treatment who need a good, nutritious diet which the lockdown has made practically impossible for us,” said Sumithra, from Rajajinagar. “Some of us don’t have Aadhaar cards and those involved in sex work don’t want to come forward to give their identity for Covid vaccination. We need to be given concessions and vaccinated on priority.”
(Some names changed to protect identities)


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Sagar Biswas

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