Transgenders struggle with unemployment, stigma, depression amid lockdown

"Members of the transgender community are very shy and reluctant to say that they do not have something; they are depending on themselves."

The livelihood of millions in the country has been affected due to the nationwide lockdown, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is not different among the transgender community of Manipur, where there has been a steep rise in COVID-19 positive cases in last few weeks.

Rohit, 29, is uncertain when she will find her next employment after her work as a makeup artist got stopped by the lockdown. As a transgender woman, it has never been easy in finding work and the lockdown has put her life and livelihood on hold.

“I earned my livelihood as a make-up artist at a beauty parlour. There is no stable income as most of the work is seasonal. I have not been able to find a permanent job because I am a transgender. As the lockdown has been continually extended, I have no idea when I will start working again. I earn a little bit at some Heijingpot (bridal shower), but that amount is not sufficient to run a family,” said Rohit speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press.

 “Sometimes, I feel completely at loss in this situation, she said.

"This uncertainty is driving me to depression," said Memi, a 49-year-old transgender woman living in a Porompat, Imphal East. “Earlier, I used to work at a parlour but lost my job due to the lockdown. Now, I stay at home by tailoring women’s clothing like blouses, Kurtis etc.,” she said.

However, the customers have stopped coming as the government has imposed this lockdown and most people do not come out in fear of the disease, she added.

“During this peak season, I am sitting at my home and losing money due to this lockdown. Imagine my loss, I am running out of food,” Memi lamented.

Jenny Khurai, who is a transgender woman and owner of three beauty parlour said, “Now, I am unable to give salary to my employees”. She said all 14 beauticians working in her parlour are transgender woman. Some of them are running their families, and they are in worse conditions, she added.

“I was unable to watch them suffer so much. So, I invited them at my place and gave them some work at the locality like threading of eyebrows etc.,” said Jenny.

On the bright side, the parents have now started accepting if a family member e.g. a son or a daughter starts openly identifying themselves as a transgender, she observed. Some parents have approached her asking to allow their children to work at her parlour so that they may not get into a hard life, said Jenny.

She informed that to ease their sufferings amid the lockdown, some food packages have been distributed to transgender community under the guidance of Santa Khurai, a transgender woman.  

While interacting with Santa, she said the troubles and challenges faced by transgender women cannot be compared with others. “There are around 4,000 transgender in Manipur. All are daily wagers and it means no work no pay. In Manipur, transgender are mostly employed in parlour, farming, weaving and tailoring,” she said. They all live a hand to mouth existence and some of them are bread earners of the family, she added.

“I am hearing complaints about their conditions like they have lost their jobs and becoming broke. It drives them to frustration and mentally affects them,” said Shanta.

She informed that some might receive rice, dal or whatever from the assistance provided by the government though all those assistance are delivered on their parents’ name. None of them get enrolled for ration cards simply due to lack of awareness on IDs or ration cards, she said. As such, they do not get government subsidies, she added.

Members of the transgender community are very shy and reluctant to say that they do not have something; they are depending on themselves, Shanta stated. They do not easily share their problems to others; however, they share among transgender themselves that too, very little. Therefore, no one among transgender raises their voice of not having anything, she said.

She said that few donors like SATHI, National Council of Church (NCCI) and National Institute of Social Defence (NISD) have supported them by distributing essential items and sanctioned an amount of Rs. 1,500 to each. They started distributing since May, although it takes time to reach them or collect data and documents. Moreover, they also cannot distribute to hill areas due to lockdown, she said.

Authorities should give curfew passes to the donors in humanitarian grounds so that they may distribute and support in the hill areas as well. The real impact of lockdown will be seen after it is lifted, she said. “There is no proper gender policy or budget allocation for transgender. How the state government is going to handle the worse position the transgender community has been put into?” she questioned. She said there is Transgender Welfare Board which exists in name only and not functioning. The impact will come when all communities are affected due to the worst condition of the economy. Among all communities, transgender will be worse affected, she added.



First Published:June 11, 2020, 9:43 p.m.

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