(Names have not been changed in this summary)
Dibyanshi Jena is from Berhampur, Ganjam district, Orissa. She lives in Bhubaneswar, and is part of the kinnar community. She is 20 years old.
Dibya used to be a BSc second year student, but now she is preparing to be a model and also works part-time with her guru at their NGO. The lockdown in her area is very strict. Only two days ago the police announced that people cannot go outside between 7 pm to 7 am. When Dibya or the others go to the market to buy vegetables or fish or anything else, they wear gloves and a mask. Outside the house there is hand sanitizer, soap, a bucket and a mug, so that they can wash their hands and sanitize before entering the house. They go out very rarely, only if it’s really important. In the market circles are drawn on the ground, one meter apart from each other. People are alert and aware.
At the moment there is no case in Dibya’s area. But some 5-7 kms away about 3 or 4 cases were found. Medical teams have not visited her area, and she hasn’t had to go to the hospital recently, so she doesn’t know whether doctors have PPE, gloves, masks, etc. Before the lockdown she used to go out for office work, for shopping, roaming with friends. Now they are just sitting at home. Bas khao piyo.
As part of the kinnar akhada at kumbhmela. Iss akhade ki sobha hai ki iss akhade pe logon ke or biswa ke kalyan ke liye mahasnan karke tribeni sangam mein puja karte hein. PC and caption: Dibya
Lockdown mein India ki halaath bahut hi kharaab hai. The number of cases is high, and its increasing. In Orissa the no of cases has hit 170 Dibya estimates. Those who are rich have money, they don’t have any problems about food and so on. But middle-class families ke liye food, clothes, have become difficult. They are unable to go out to get what they need.
In kinnar communities there is a tradition of badhai. People call it begging, but it is not begging. People from the kinnar community also do sex work. Abhi toh sab band hai. Unko bhi bahut hi takleef ho raha hai rehne mein, khaane mein. We left our homes and became a part of this community. Those who live with their guru, for them it is not so difficult. Those who stay on their own, for them it is really difficult. Humare guru bhi hein, woh kuchh protection kar rahe hein humare liye.
Her guru is collecting ration, money, and whatever is distributed by the government, and is distributing it to people living in the bastis. Dibya shares that her guru thinks, aaj nahi toh kal kama lenge, but those jo raat ko paani peke so rahe hein, unko kuchh toh pet mein daana padega toh she will be able to sleep peacefully. Dibya’s guru thinks, krishna gave me, because of him today I am not hungry, so, she contributes from her own money, and also helps direct the government and others to those who need relief. For this Dibya’s guru has taken the guidance of those above her; her dadh guru and naan guru. In kinnar communities there is guru-chela pratha. If we have any problem, our guru supports us, she helps us.
Dibya was in the second year of her BSc when she left her parents’ house and came to the community. Mai yahaan aake riwaaz padhi, saare pratha mile mujhe guruon ke. Like we have our family into which we were born, our community is also like a family, aunty, mausi, mami, nani, chachi we are all related to each other like this. We have our riwaaz. Guru yane ki sasuma, aur chela yaane ki bahu. After she left her parents’ house, Dibya faced a shortage of money, she wasn’t able to support herself so she discontinued her studies. Her guru did suggest taking up studies again, but she did not like the thought of studying with those who were her juniors earlier.
Dibya is facing financial difficulties at the moment. Earlier she used to do badhai and also worked part time with her guru at their NGO. Her income used to be about 20,000-25,000 rupees a month. Now her income has completely stopped. She doesn’t really have savings. Along with the community, she also supports her parents. She was their only son. Now that she can’t send them money anymore, they are also in a difficult situation.
Dibya is not scared about getting the disease. No one goes out, they are all at home, and feel secure. If someone does go out, they take all precautions. Toh darne ki koi baat nahi hai. Maybe it’s possible that we come out of corona in the next 3-4 months. But it doesn’t seem likely. The cases here were reducing, and now they have increased again. The impact on badhai will continue after the lockdown is over. Logon ka haalat bahut hi kharab hai. Woh apne baare mein dekhenge ya humein dekhenge? So, it will have a big effect on us for some time.
It was good that the government extended the lockdown, and it will be better if it is extended by a few days more. We have to think about our life. Maybe it’s possible that the spread of the virus will reduce if the lockdown is extended further. The government is supporting people in everyway, but if people don’t listen, what can the government do? The good thing about the lockdown is that friends and relatives who’d call once or twice a month now call every other day. Dibya shares that bonds have become very strong in this period. This is true of bonds within the community and also with each one’s real families.
Ayesha Behra lives in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. She works with an NGO and is an LGBTIQ activist. The NALSA judgement came a long time back, but Ayesha’s work continues because very little has changed. If everything was fine, they would not be activists. One good thing is that several trans people have been able to get aadhaar card, voter card, ration card. So now they can become citizens. But that’s not all there is to life. Ayesha is working for their rights to go to the market, the cinema hall, and so on.
Even though laws have been passed protecting trans people from abuse and discrimination, in reality if they go to the police station, the police questions them more than the person who has mistreated them. They are asked, why were you walking this way, why did you say this or that, and so on. Ayesha stresses that trans people have the right to live as they want to. They are mistreated by their parents, by neighbours, and in schools and colleges. We also know that though we were born in one gender, we walk, talk, behave like the opposite gender. We were not born this way because of some medicine or injection or something. We were born in the same way as our siblings. But people are not able to understand this, people are not able to accept us. This is the biggest cause of dukh.
The lockdown has badly affected trans people who were doing sex work, who had daily income, who used to beg and so on. They barely earn toh what will they save. So, now they do not have clothes, food. All the shops are closed. Bahut zaada affected ho gaye hein woh log. Trans people like make-up. They are not able to do that right now as well. The ministry has announced that backward classes will get a stipend. But it was after a lot of advocacy that they gave it to transgender people in Orissa, and very few have actually gotten the stipend. In log ne toh bhool hi gaye the humare baare mein. Trans people were given the stipend after many prominent people and local leaders tweeted. But why is it like this? We are also part of society; we are more backward than most backward classes. We don’t have homes to live. After the Supreme Court judgement we are also citizens of India. But isse kya humara pet bhar jaayega? Humko adhikaar mila hai, lekin humko khaane ke liye kuchh nahi milega? Kya hum logon ke adhikaar mein woh nahi aata?
Bhubaneswar is currently in the red zone. From 7 pm to 7 am no one can go out. It is like curfew. People are very scared. And aapko toh pata hi hoga, there are many shops jo darr badha deti hein. They sell things for 15 rupees instead of 10 because people need them. These incidents spread fear even more. Ayesha and others are telling everyone not to be scared, they need to take precautions, uske baad sab kuchh theek hoga. Near Ayesha’s office, in an area where the transgender community lives, where she also lives, 7-8 people have tested positive in a 2 kms radius. When the cases were found the area was sealed off, but since then several people have recovered and so now it has been opened up again.
No medical teams have come to Ayesha’s area to do testing, contact tracing, or screening. Several NGOs have worked to spread awareness, and trans people themselves are watching the news and have begun wearing masks and gloves when they go out. Social distancing is happening, but there are several trans people who live in jhopdis in slums. So, for these people, social distance kahaan se aayega. Ek ghar mein 10-20 log rehte hein. They don’t have water to drink, and food to eat, so how will they maintain social distance? Things they need are available in the market, but sabse badi cheez hai paisa. Jab paisa hi nahi hai toh log kya karenge? Government has given 1000 rupees and 5 kg rice. 1000 rupees kitna din chalta hai? At most 15 days. Most trans people live in prostitution. They are not being able to do sex work at the moment. They are also scared that if a customer with corona comes to them, they will also get it. Their source of income has gone.
We cannot say sex work is wrong. If we say sex work is wrong, we cannot talk about sex workers rights. If someone is doing sex work willingly, they are not marginalised, we can say they have come to the mainstream. Even today several women choose sex work even though there are other options of employment for them. If someone does sex work against their will, it is our duty to help them get into the employment of their choice.
Ayesha is is from Balugaon, a small town in Khordha district and known for the famous Chilika lake. After her parents threw her out of their house, Ayesha washed utensils and did sex work to support herself. She prays no one suffers in this way. Even after qualifying as an engineer, she could not find a room on rent, and that’s how she got in touch with the kinnar community. She never wanted to do sex work. She did it because of society. If her parents could not accept her, how will society? But her parents were also not wrong. If she lived with them, they would have been angry with her, given her gaalis. Because they live in the world. They have always seen transgenders begging, but never working in an office.
It was Ayesha’s dream to do something in life and change her parent’s view, and also that of other parents. This is why she studied engineering, and now she is working. She is very proud of herself. Whatever she is, she never wants to hide her identity. She has had a sex change operation. She never describes herself as a girl, even though she thinks of herself as one. She describes herself as a trans person. Because that’s how the world sees her, and if she does not accept who she is, how will the world?
She is very happy that her parents are proud of her today. Ayesha’s elder brother hasn’t been able to do much, but despite being a trans person she is supporting her parents. So they have realised that they don’t need to see what is under her clothes, she too can be a good child.
Family se dhakka khaye, society se dhakka khaye, koi hijra bole, koi mamu bole, koi dual sim bole, trans people fall in depression, they are unable to accept themselves. They wonder why they are such that their parents are not accepting them, society is not accepting them. Based on what Ayesha knows, what she has seen, 95-96% transgender people have attempted suicide.
In everybody there are male and female hormones. In a transgender person’s body if they are physically a man but behave like women, it is because there is a hormone imbalance. There are too many male hormones. People are given 8-10 months of counselling, to determine if they are really women in their minds, or if they like dressing and being like women. After the counselling they go to an endocrinologist for hormone replacement therapy. Due to hormonal imbalances trans people have mood swings, they feel scared, sad, suicidal. Endocrinologists determine their psychological gender and balance hormones as per the psychological gender, and with time the sex change operation also takes place.
All kinnar are transgender but all transgender are not kinnar. Kinnar are hijra community. Transgender is a different community. If someone is becoming a kinnar, they have to learn and accept the several parathas of the community. They have to accept the guru-chela pratha, guru ki seva karna padega, badhai pe jaana padega, they will have to sing and dance and earn money. This is a culture. But transgender people, they might or might not become part of the community. They might choose to work in an office. Ayesha is not discriminating against the kinnar community, but if someone asks her, she says she is a trans person. She is not a kinnar. She does not like it if someone calls her kinnar. But this is a matter of personal perception and choice.
Kinnar log ek sampradaya hai. They are a community. They have many prathas. Men cannot go into where they live. This was the way of living of puraane-zamaane ke transgenders, and even today several transgender people live in this way. Woh puri tarah ek ghar mein band karke bhagwaan ko samarpit hein. Kinnar are also called ardhanarishwar, a roop of shivji which is half parvati and half shivji. In the kinnar community there is the culture of badhai. When a child is born, or when there is a godhbharai, or if someone is unable to conceive, or when there is a marriage, kinnars are called to give blessings, to give dua. When a child is born they are called after 21 days.
But the world has become so advance, and dheere dheere dheere ye practice chhupte gayi, chhupte gayi. This should not have happened. This was their way of earning a living, but also blessing people. Aaj log unko pehchaan nahi paate, they ignore them. Aaj logon ne unko band kar diya hai. The new bill which has come out has called their practice as begging. But it is not begging. Kinnars would give dua and people would give them money. Bahut saare kinnar hein jo naachte the, gaana gaate the, dua dete the, badhai karte the, aur apna pet paalte the. Bheek nahi maangte the.
There is very little education in the community. Trans people are stigmatised early on, and they have split from their families. The few trans people who have completed higher education are able to get jobs. But what about others who do not have any education? They can only do badhai. Ayesha will definitely acknowledge that there are kinnars who do galat kaam and have spoiled the name of the community. Kinnar community ko badnaam kar rahe hein. But everyone is not the same. There are many kinnars jo bahut achhe hote hein, jo bahut achhi dua dete hein, kyunki woh log pehle se hi bhagwaan ko samarpit kar diye khud ko.
Earlier kinnar people used to live together. They used to do puja to their kul devata, Aravan. They used to eat a plain diet. But as society has developed, things have changed. All sampradayas have changed, and so has kinnar sampradaya. But Ayesha still believes, and many other people believe as well that kinnaron ka blessings bahut achha kaam karte hein, ya woh log bahut achha dua dete hein. As an educated transgender person Ayesha really accepts ki haan ye hota hai.
Before the lockdown Ayesha used to be at the office between 10 am and 6 pm. She is working for the trans community, getting them aadhaar cards, working on social acceptance, employment etc. Now since the lockdown she works from home. She is on the phone surveying the community to assess everyone’s situation, what they need, what benefits they have received from the government, chawal mila ki nahi, paisa mila ki nahi. She does this for not only trans people but also kinnar people. There has not been a change in her economic situation. She gets a monthly salary. But there are many transgender people jo bahut economically down ho chuke hein. Whatever she is able to do on a personal level she is doing to help people out. She got chawal from the government which she distributed to poor children in the area. Those who have to go out multiple times, who are helping other people, she is distributing sanitizer to them. She is distributing chawal dal.
Health facilities are alright in Bhubaneswar. People are following the quarantine. Every district has been given 5 lakh rupees, to support migrant labourers returning home, who will be kept in 14 days quarantine and will be given food and shelter during that time. So everything is fine wrt to healthcare. But yes, as she was saying, the government should pay attention to the transgender community. If we are being told to stay indoors, how do we eat?
Ayesha observes that the way coronavirus cases are increasing, in India but also the world, everything appears dark. But it is on us, if we follow the lockdown it will be good, if we do not, it will put us and those around us in danger. No one has seen the future, neither has Ayesha. But if we are not careful now, it is going to be very dangerous in the near future. There should be a tollfree all-India number for the trans community. Several people are on hormones at the moment. Several people are yet to have sex change surgeries. They are in depression. So, if there is a tollfree number for counselling and medical advice, it will help many trans people. She is not saying the government should take extra efforts for trans people, she is saying, just do as much as you are doing for everyone else.
Ayesha is really thankful to the Orissa government. If someone does not have a ration card, their aadhaar card can be used initially as a ration card. This actually works, it worked for her as well. This was a very good effort and she really liked it. In such a time, itna toh hona chahiye. Not only in Orissa, it should happen in all states. Ayesha can only say that ek haath se taali nahi bajta. Do haath se taali bajta hai. This is true for trans people, society, government. So, everyone should be aware that ye sabka desh hai, society ka bhi, transgender logon ka bhi, sarkar ka bhi. Let us join hands and defeat this pandemic.