Ayaan Shams Siddiquee
“Transgender” is an umbrella term which denotes people whose gender identity and expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Currently, there are an estimated 10,000 to half a million transgender people residing in Bangladesh.
Our country lags behind tremendously in providing the transgender community with their basic privileges. Instead, they are subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. They face an existential barrier in the employment and healthcare sectors. They are victims of regular targeted attacks by the religious extremists, and fear the authorities will deny their very existence when it comes to bringing them justice.
Life as a transgender child in Bangladesh is nearly impossible. A child labelled as a boy during birth may identify as a girl and have feminine traits or vice-versa. Such children are abused and ridiculed and considered to bring shame upon the family.
These children are ousted from their homes and left to fend for themselves. They are deprived from their basic human rights; education, healthcare, shelter, etc. The children face gender dysphoria at an early age and feel uncomfortable in their own skin.
In the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the transgender community is the minority group which is left unattended the most.
In the predominant heterosexual society, transgender people are considered societal outcasts, which in turn gives birth to stigmatisation. Donations from birthdays, marriages, and other festivities are one of the primary sources of income for the Hijra community.
Aside from that, they engage in sex work and take money in the form of donations from shops and stores. Due to the prevalent gender barrier in the employment sector, these are the main sources of income for the hijra community in our country.
Amidst the ongoing pandemic and lockdown, brothels have been shut down; weddings and birthday ceremonies have been halted. The main sources of income for transgender people have been cut off vigorously.
Upon being asked, Karima (pseudonym), a Trans rights activist, said, “The current situation of the transgender community is miserable. Most of the hijra communities used to earn their livelihoods by doing sex work, begging. A small portion of them worked in parlours and boutique shops. But all of that has ceased due to the global lockdown.”
There isn’t a notable difference which can be seen between the urban and rural areas for the Hijra community. Both sides are equally adversity-stricken.
“The 3-4% of hijra who migrated to urban areas from the villages have gone back to their rural hometowns so that they can survive from hand to mouth. The Hijra community living in Dhaka city has been facing problems in paying their house rents. Most of them have around three to four months of unpaid rent, solely because they have no income.”
She also added,
“The situation of the Hijra community living in Dhaka greatly deteriorated at the beginning of Ramadan; they were in a situation where they had no income, no food whatsoever.”
Various social youth organisations and non-profit organisations have united on the common ground of providing relief materials to the needy and desolate, but the minority and vulnerable groups and communities have been left out of the discussion. The extensive discriminatory barrier becomes evident when relief materials are not adequately provided to transgender people.
Ruma (pseudonym), a Trans rights activist from Rajshahi, said in an interview,
“A handful of NGOs and organisations working for the transgender community has come forward to aid us during this time. But the fact of the matter is, only a HANDFUL of organisations have taken the initiative, in a country which hosts almost half a million transgender people.”
With all of these combined, the condition of the trans community is appalling. In the absence of any financial stability, most of them cannot afford meals everyday.
“Those working in parlours and boutique shops somehow survive from hand to mouth with the little money they earn from their shops everyday. It isn’t enough as business has depleted drastically. But the others are dependent and reliant on relief materials primarily. With the little financial and materialistic aid they get from local organisations, they somehow manage to sustain their livelihoods.”
According to the Hijra community, the relief materials they receive from the local organizations are rationed for around 20-25 days or a month at best. After a month, they are rendered helpless again.
In a long-term perspective, the relief distributions are somewhat futile. As the situation stands, the demand of the transgender community is “Give us relief materials, or give us employment opportunities.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, it is imminent that the most marginalised group will be left behind the most. The challenges for the trans community before the global lockdown were daunting, but currently they are inhumane. It is a distant dream that the trans community will be fully accepted into the society of a country where “Hijra”— the term used to denote a trans person — is still used as a slur.
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.
The artwork is an independent submission by Fayizah Rahman from Ekhoni.
*The article is a submission for the August issue of Silent the Silence.