LAHORE: As the Covid-19 virus rages across Punjab, it leaves the transgender community at heightened risk of poverty and ill health because they exist on the fringes of society.
Eking out a living through begging on the streets, treated as social pariahs, the transgender community’s options are limited. They can stay at home or continue to beg to make ends meet.
“Everyone is vulnerable but our options are limited,” said Neeli Rana, a trans woman and community leader in Lahore.
Operating under already limited social privileges, the community fears for its survival during the lockdown period. While urging citizens to participate in social distancing to flatten the Covid-19 curve appears to be the only strategy that is effective in preventing the respiratory virus from spreading, the transgender community has no alternative source of income other than performing for people or begging. “Our livelihood depends on begging and performing for people,” said Rana, speaking on behalf of the community.
While laws, now provide some form of equality to the transgender community, they are constantly judged based on the pre-existing template of social norms and cultural expectations in the country. In 2017, the government, in the first of firsts, counted transgender people in its national census. In June that year, first passports were issued with a transgender category — a milestone in the community’s long struggle against discrimination.
Rana, who happens to be a mother figure or guru, said, the community is practising social distancing during the lockdown period but without any financial support from the government.
“We are staying at home but without any financial support from the authorities,” Rana said with a quiver in her voice. Zanaya Chaudhry, who is part of a Lahore-based NGO, said the transgender community requires financial help. “We are trying to do as much as we can. We have provided them with protective masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves,” claimed Chaudhry.
According to Chaudhry, the community is at heightened risk of contracting the respiratory disease as they live together, often with limited space. “So far, we have not recorded any case of coronavirus in the community.
While the government has promised financial assistance to all citizens who are suffering due to the health crisis, it appears the transgender community is still waiting for its turn. In a statement earlier the provincial welfare department vowed: “We will not let anyone suffer alone.” As that assistance makes its way to the members of the transgender community, many continue to beg across the provincial capital. “We have no option but to beg to make ends meet,” said Amber Shehzadi, a member of the community, seen begging near the Jinnah market area in Lahore.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2020.