COVID-19 pandemic leaves Kashmir’s transgenders in dire straits

Members of community are bereft of livelihood due to fewer weddings

With the past 14 months marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the already marginalised transgender community is bereft of its livelihood in Kashmir valley and is hesitant to get vaccinated due to the fear of being jeered at in health centres designated for the other two genders.

Ostracised by close relatives since she declared herself as belonging to the third gender, Mir Khushi, 18, is one of the rare transgenders who supports her ageing parents in Srinagar’s Noorbagh area. Her ailing parents, suffering from hypertension and diabetes, live in a rented accommodation. They live off earnings made by Khushi in the matchmaking business or singing during weddings. But, of late, the savings of Khushi have depleted in the absence of any fresh work.

“We were living a happy life till the lockdown of August 5, 2019 [when the Centre revoked J&K’s special status] started. It was followed by prolonged spells of lockdown due to the fast-spreading coronavirus. There were times when I never fixed fares while hiring a three-wheeler in the city and happily gave extra money. But now I prefer to walk to see my friends and discuss how to make ends meet,” Khushi told The Hindu.

Khushi is among the estimated 400 transgender people living in Srinagar who await help from philanthropists to buy food. The ongoing pandemic and ‘Corona curfew’ have restricted weddings to just under 25 people and also cast a shadow on any elaborate musical evenings, which was the main source of earning money for the transgender people here.

“I used to sing and dance in up to 50 weddings annually. Since the pandemic broke out, I have attended just four weddings. We used to charge per hour and earn up to ₹15,000 per wedding. Now we are clueless on how to buy food and medicine. No relative has come forward to help us,” Khushi said.

With house rent piling up for many months, Khushi said she sneaks in and out of her rented accommodation to avoid meeting the owner. “Where will I get the money for rent? There is no music or singing during weddings. The business of matchmaking was badly dented by the Internet and love marriages. The pandemic only proved as the last nail in the coffin,” Khushi added.

Mir Junaid, from Srinagar’s Bemina, who has volunteered for a Mumbai-based NGO, the UNCF, said they were providing food kits to 50 transgender people so that they can survive the pandemic.

“These people are living a miserable life as their livelihood has been completely snatched. We are preparing to reach out to around 400 such people in Srinagar,” Mr. Junaid said.

According to the 2011 Census, 477 people registered themselves as transgender in Kashmir.

Vaccination hurdle

According to NGOs working with the community, transgenders have stayed away from vaccination so far. The hesitancy among them is not due to any science but fear of being jeered at.

“If we stand in a queue at a health centre, people start passing remarks and cracking jokes at us. I wish the government sets up a separate counter for us or puts in place a mechanism so that we get inoculated without any hassle,” said Maaji Lala, a transgender from the city’s Nowhatta area.

Lala, who is a matchmaker, said the transgender community needs to be inoculated first because they visit people’s houses frequently.

“If we are not inoculated quickly, people will not allow us in and will fear that we are coronavirus carriers. The vaccination certificate will keep our business going,” Maaji said.

There is no policy yet in the Union Territory to reach out to the community or create separate vaccination centres.

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