Swasti, Royal Enfield, NMCT provide Tamil Nadu’s forgotten transgender communities with COVID relief packages
How do you lock down the second most populated country in the world and ensure that everyone is taken care of?
After announcing a nation-wide lockdown on the 24th of March, the government of India announced a series of financial aid packages to be sent out to vulnerable groups around the country. Government bodies, civil society organisations (CSOs), trade unions and other stakeholders have been working tirelessly to provide relief to marginalised groups who are expected to be severely affected by COVID-19 related regulations. For example, the welfare of informal sector workers is being protected by providing financial packages, waiving loans, organising transport for stranded migrant workers, facilitating housing provision and provision of subsidised food. Despite these large scale endeavours, some groups are still being left behind.
The transgender and sex worker communities in the southern state of Tamil Nadu are some of those forgotten by the government’s compensation efforts. Individuals from these communities are, more often than not, daily wage workers, who earn a living through begging or sex work. The nature of this type of work is such that the lockdown put an end to income-earning activities for these groups. “We couldn’t go out of our homes due to the pandemic. Even if we did, the police would warn or harass us. Our clients couldn’t come home, as they were also warned by the police. I faced difficulties for a month without any help,” explained Vasanthi, one of the workers affected by the gaps in the government schemes. Members of these groups barely earn enough to cover their daily living expenses, let alone to build enough savings to fall back on during times of crisis. Just like any other group across India, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. A loss of livelihood for these people is almost as dangerous as the virus itself.
In order to tackle this problem, Swasti Health Catalyst decided to partner with the Native Medicare Charitable Trust (NMCT), an organisation working with vulnerable groups across Tamil Nadu. NMCT had recently received funding from Royal Enfield India Ltd to support 4500 marginalised communities across five Tamil Nadu districts as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Director of NMCT agreed to assist Swasti in providing support for up to 300 transgender people and sex workers.
Our impact officers worked with community centres across the five districts – Coimbatore, Salem, Erode, Madurai and Tirupur – to collect the details of the most vulnerable transgender people and sex workers in each district. Their level of vulnerability was based on the number of people dependent on the worker, especially those with no other alternate source for livelihood or savings, as well as migrants without access to ration cards. Names were collected, as were numbers of dependents, migration details and some mandatory government documents i.e. Aadhar card, ration card. NMCT was ultimately provided with a list of 100 individuals in Coimbatore and 150 in Salem. A similar list of 60 families was prepared for People’s Watch, a human rights NGO who agreed to assist the transgender and sex worker communities in Madurai.
Having been left out of the aforementioned assistance schemes, transgender and sex worker families were left without food. Additionally, even if they had an income, all grocery and provisional stores were closed due to lockdown, so there would be nowhere to purchase resources. Swasti recognised this and acknowledged that a direct cash transfer would be of no use to these communities. With financial assistance from NMCT and Royal Enfield, Swasti was able to put together a dry rations and essentials relief package worth 2000 INR. This kit included around 14 grocery and essential commodity items – rice (10kg), wheat (5kg), ragi (1kg), pulses (2kg), oil (1L), sugar (2kg), salt (1kg), tea powder (500g), spices, hand washing soap (2 units), bar soap (2 units) and masks (5 units). The food rations would sustain these families for up to a month, and the personal hygiene items would protect them from contracting the virus. All of this meant that they could afford to stay at home, keeping themselves and others in their community safe from community virus transmission.
From the 13th to the 27th of April, the Swasti team and a group of community leaders distributed this package to 250 transgender people and sex workers across Salem, Coimbatore and Madurai, and was used for a period of approximately 25-30 days.
“Due to the COVID -19 pandemic, we couldn’t venture out for work. At the right time we received a dry ration from the organisation. We are grateful to you all” – Maradhamal
“The lockdown prevented us from going out for work and our clients from visiting us. We faced difficulties, the contribution from the organisations helped us to survive. We are thankful to you all” – Ponni
“We had to stay back at home for 45 days due to the lockdown, we couldn’t go out to work as well. We received food and essential commodities packages from these organisations. They provided us healthy and nutritious food which could be used for a month. We are grateful to all the organisations” – Mantra
Maradhamal, Ponni and Mantra are among numerous community members who expressed gratitude for the support of these organisations during these difficult times. Swasti, Royal Enfield, NMCT and People’s Watch are in turn humbled to be able to make a difference among these forgotten people during these frightening times, where inequalities seem to be growing every day.
Contributors: Tishya Desai, Jeyaganesh and Kaveri M.T.