In a breakthrough for the transgender community in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, the Manipur High Court has directed the State Government to extend Covid-19 relief to the community. Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Santa Khurai, an indigenous Nupi Maanbi (transgender woman) and queer activist, the court asked the state to include the disadvantaged populace of transgender people in its Chief Minister Covid-19 Affected Livelihood Support Scheme. Earlier, the government had not considered the community as disadvantaged, and had excluded them from the support scheme. This is unfortunately a very common occurrence across India, where any kind of support towards the transgender community is deemed unnecessary. This causes significant harm, and it overlooks the socio-economic alienation of the community, leading to alienation, poverty, and poor access to healthcare and other amenities. The community is often forgotten about in the state’s decision-making processes. Another similar incident that comes to mind is when the NRC process was introduced in Assam in 2019 and over 2000 transgender folx found themselves excluded from it as they could not access the requisite documents. This was mostly due to being ousted from traditional family structures and lack of institutional support for their well-being.
Khurai, the secretary of All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (ANMNA), told the Indian Express that: “People from the transgender community are one of the worst affected by the pandemic as all their traditional forms of livelihoods have been taken away due to the lockdown and curfew. They need financial support, and hence must also be included within the ambit of the scheme”. It is paramount that governing bodies across the country take notice of the fact that the transgender community is worse off than their cis counterparts solely on account of their gender identity, not only in financial measures, but in all the social ones too. Wilful ignorance of this fact amounts to nothing less than the decimation of the community.
As the scheme was solely geared towards ration card holders, it denied a lot of transgender folks an opportunity to avail the benefits, as most of the time, transgender folk and people from other marginalized communities are unable to access such documentation. Especially transgender people, as official processes make it hard for them to self-determine their gender and change their name. Hence, Khurai’s demand for relief was for people who did not have their ration cards.
The scheme itself, run under the State’s social welfare department, gives out a payment of Rs. 5000, in two separate installments of 2,500 each. It is meant to benefit the people who live below the poverty line, and whose households and lives have been badly disrupted by the pandemic. However, given the government’s oversight of the fact that ration cards are not readily available or accessible to everyone, it has not been the game-changing move that it was proclaimed to be.
The ignorance of the plights of the transgender and other marginalized communities is not uncommon, and it highlights a yawning area of concern that exists in our public policy. With Santa Khurai winning this legal battle, the onus falls upon other queer activists to raise their voices for resource redistribution in a manner that safeguards community rights.
Another instance was Grace Banu and her community’s tireless visits to government offices over the years, which finally granted them an audience with the Thoothukudi collector, M Sandeep Nanduri. Having finally received this form of bureaucratic recognition and support, the group of 30 transgender women were able to access a loan and set up the Manthithope Transgenders’ Milk Producers’ Cooperative Society. While these may seem like significant wins against the historic marginalisation of the community, the long-term victory is in the dismantling of the systemic inequities and barriers that keep them from accessing their rights on a daily basis.