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Vol. XXXI No. 8, August 1-15, 2021

Transforming the Trans Community

by Padmaja Jayaraman

(Continued from last fortnight)

Should the transgender community achieve social acceptance and respect only after pulling off a charity initiative such as the Trans Community Kitchen? As much as this is a compassionate and noble effort on their part, one cannot deny that they have been ostracized and oppressed for ages in the city.

Most of the volunteers relied on sex work or kadaikekarathu (going to a shop and offering blessings for money) for a living. When the lockdown happened, the shops in the city closed and they were unable to go for sex work; they had to battle tooth and nail to make both ends meet.

“Everyone asks why we don’t do something other than sex work or kadaikekaradhu. They wonder that, when some trans people work in the organised sector, why don’t the others also find such jobs?” asked Priya, coordinator of the Porur wing of the Trans Community Kitchen.

Explaining the reason behind the disparities in opportunities within the trans community, she said that the trans people who transitioned after the year 2000 are getting employed in the organised sector. Though it is a welcome move that corporations and organisations are hiring trans people, there is an age factor that diminishes the chances of the older trans people finding regular employment.

These older people who may be 35 years or more, usually would have completed just ninth or tenth grade. When they apply for a job, the companies say that they have crossed their age limit.

The age limit also used to persist within the trans community in the city. Priya explained that there used to be older transwomen under which there were younger transwomen, and who used to do the former’s bidding. “When the Trans Community Kitchen opened, there were no age limits for us. Most of our volunteers were more than 30 years of age. Everybody could do any job that they were good at,” she said.

To give them an edge, the state government and the city corporation have implemented a number of landmark initiatives to support the trans community. In February, the Chennai Metro Rail Limited employed 13 transgender people for jobs such as ticketing and addressing commuter questions. In June, the government announced free bus travel for the trans community in the city. In July, a shelter home was opened for transmen and transwomen in Periyar Nagar, which can house up to 25 persons. Called “Garima Grah”, it will be run by Transgender Rights Association (TRA), a community-based organisation, as per the directive of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE). The shelter will focus on providing trans people who come from their homes, counselling, “Trans people who come out of their homes may face a lot of difficulties. To help those people, the shelter home was started. We will understand their background, give them counselling, and help them to develop job-related training,” said the TRA director, Jeeva Rangaraj.

Despite the government’s efforts to uplift the trans population, there are also some lacunae that need to be addressed. According to the CoWIN dashboard data, just 418 trans persons have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Chennai, as of the last week of July. There was no data on the overall number of trans persons in the city in any official database. The 2011 census of Chennai also does not include the trans population, and only lays out the city’s male and female populations. Thus the inference can be made that the city’s trans population came under the sex they have been assigned at birth. However, the transgender population has been recognised in the 2011 state census. In Tamil Nadu (as of last week of July), 14.2 per cent of the trans population has been vaccinated, as compared to 27.1 per cent of women and 29.4 per cent of men. Apart from this, there are only 7,200 transgender voters in the state, according to the Tamil Nadu Voter List 2021. Zooming in to look at the status in Chennai, only 11.9 per cent of the trans voters turned up for the state polls, according to a Times of India report in April 2021.

This data should remind the government to take more meaningful efforts to empower the trans community. The initiatives must not be ostentatious baits to expand the vote bank. Providing them with recognition and equitable opportunities must be the real deal. They can begin by conducting a census of the city’s trans population; and help them avail the trans ID card thereby scoring out bureaucratic hurdles. The trans card shall help them utilise all the government schemes and policies meant for the community. Additionally, efforts should be made to provide more government employment to them and promote trans-led initiatives such as the Trans Community Kitchen.

(Concluded)

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