Recently the Tamil Nadu government announced that it will be providing free bus travel in government buses for trans women and differently abled people after the lockdown is lifted. This raises a few questions. With regard to differently-abled people, will the buses also become more wheelchair accessible in design? Will they have separate seating or space for wheelchairs to be parked? Will the be space to accommodate crutches, wheelchairs and other equipment? Will announcements be made in a manner that is accessible for deaf-blind folx? What happens in case there are too many people on the bus and the passengers are bound to get jostled and get accidentally hurt? Will the government take responsibility?
Now, with regard to trans women; this isn’t the first time that the government has promised money and failed to deliver on it. Trans people were provided with special identity cards under the DMK regime in 2008 for accessing housing and ration schemes. During the pandemic, the AIADMK government was providing Rs. 1000 and 12 kg of rice to these card holders, but this stopped around August, 2020. The Union Ministry had also extended their aid and provided Rs. 1,500 to trans people across the country. To access this benefit, they had to register using their Aadhar cards and provide their bank accounts. But since registration was only possible in Hindi or English and Aadhar cards often had dead names of the person, while many others did not have their medical certificate, this was largely inaccessible and designed for failure. Moreover, not all who applied received the money either.
Besides, one has to ask, is Rs, 2,000 really helpful? Can the government not provide more – if not monetary, then in terms of redistributive justice? The economy is seeing one of the worst hits ever in the country and marginalised people are bearing the brunt owing to their invisibilized labour in the ‘informal economy’. Besides, this is most likely a one-time deposit instead of a monthly provision. Since the trans identity continues to be hinged on the problematic notion of the “third gender”, those same problems with identification arise when it comes to accessing the money provided by the Tamil Nadu government. In her petition at the Madras High Court a few weeks ago, Grace Banu had asked for trans persons to be paid ?4000, so the government’s handout is just half the stated requirement by the community.
They could instead, guarantee jobs, while providing disability & social security benefits for the community, which is helpful in the long term. Besides, what happens in case trans women are accosted on the bus? Social stigma is still prevalent when it comes to the trans community and it’s important the government takes steps to alleviate this hiccup through systemic change instead. And one must also ask- why only trans women and not trans men? Why not provide free bus rides for all trans persons? If the government wants to help the community, then why are their provisions exclusive to only one identity?
Providing free bus rides and Rs. 2,000 to the trans community may seem like a nice step, but we need to have a better framework in place that evaluates the success of such measures (what does success look like? Is it defined socio-economically or in terms of coverage?). There is still a long way to go to accommodate the trans & disabled communities in our part of the world and we must critically analyse policy so we don’t get ahead of ourselves and pat our own backs for doing less than enough.