For over a year now, the transgender community in Karnataka, especially those marginalized by caste and alienated by their birth families, have been woefully ignored in the State’s lockdown-related policy-making.
Last year, the Karnataka High Court had directed the State government to extend pension and other monetary relief to the community via the Mythri scheme, which was launched in October 2013. However, much like similar schemes in other states, the cash paid out (Rs. 600/-) is way too little for even a single individual to survive on. This is not to mention that the community is living through an ongoing pandemic that has crushed healthcare services under its weight, even while constituting a population that is highly vulnerable to HIV and other life-threatening infections that can only be exacerbated by the coronavirus.
Moreover, there is little initiative taken in expanding the coverage of the Mythri scheme. This is largely due to requirement of documentation like Aadhar card, voter ID card, and even gender certificates, as a result of which only ~1657 trans-folx are covered under it in the state. It is worth noting that Karnataka is home to over 70,000 transgender people of which only 4,700 are registered to vote. An even smaller fraction (pegged at about 5% in 2019 Lok Sabha polls) actually show up to polling booths, which is understandable given the persisting male gaze and public stigma.
The most marginalized among the transgender community in Karnataka often join existing collectives, which are known by names in the local tongue such as Jogappa, Shivashakti, Mangalamukhi, and Hijra. Many of them are denied rented accommodation by houseowners, several escape their abusive families and migrate with little more than the clothes on their back (let alone documents to prove their identity), and still others eke out a living by seeking alms and through sex work – both of which have been highly impacted due to the recent and past lockdowns in the state.
The Karnataka government has now proposed to reserve 1% of all its jobs for the transgender community. The reservation will be in each category, i.e., general, SC, ST, and each of the OBC quotas, according to a draft notification released on May 13, 2021. However, a major loophole in exercising political will is evident in the draft rules which goes on to state that should eligible transgender candidates not be available for these posts, then those belonging to binary genders within the category will be considered and recruited instead.
This points towards yet another hollow initiative that does little to address systemic inequities, which are evident in the failure of other schemes targeting the same demographic in the state.