‘We Are Helpless, Hopeless and Living in Despair’: Impact of COVID-19 on the Overall Health and Well-being, and Participation of the Transgender Community in India
This article aims to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 on the health and the lived experiences of transgender individuals in India. In particular, the impact of COVID-19 on various aspects of the existence of the transgender population, including interaction with the government and identity negotiation, means of livelihood, access to health resources and availability of gender transition services and finally, the impact of social distancing and isolation on mental health.
The strategies adopted to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe have exacerbated the challenges faced by traditionally marginalised populations. In India, the first case of COVID-19 was detected on 30 January 2020, the same day that the World Health Organisation declared it a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. On 25 March 2020, India decided to impose the stringent nationwide lockdown with curfew-like restrictions on the people’s movement. Following the central government issuance of this pandemic directive, all businesses, public transportation and public life came to a standstill overnight. Unlike other countries, the Indian government’s arbitrary ‘complete’ nationwide lockdown decision to combat COVID-19 endangered the survival of already disenfranchised groups like transgender communities.
While disease outbreaks have traditionally perpetuated gender inequities and increased the vulnerabilities borne by marginalised communities, for historically marginalised and stigmatised transgender communities, these inequities often get exaggerated in times of a national crisis precipitated by a pandemic. The lockdown was only eased with the issuance of the phased reopening of services in June and July. However, despite such stringent lockdown measure, by 15 September 2020, India surpassed Brazil as the country with the second-highest number of reported coronavirus infections. As the COVID-19 cases continued to soar, several Indian cities and states continue to re-impose stricter measures on people’s movement to curb its spread.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a major health crisis in India with 1.3 billion people as they are all vulnerable to the contagious virus. The strategies that curb the spread of the pandemic—including staying at home, wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing—imposed by the Indian government have been fraught with complexities and have severely disadvantaged the marginalised sections of the society (Lancet, 2020). For instance, soon after the government announced the national lockdown, the country witnessed an unprecedented mass exodus of desperate internal migrant workers moving from metropolitan centres to their rural homelands. In India’s post-lockdown economy, daily wage labourers and those working in informal sectors faced extreme economic insecurity, hunger and starvation. A report in Lancet (2020) noted that the implementation of public health measures was challenging in many places due to overcrowded living conditions and inadequate hygiene and sanitation conditions. In addition, non-COVID-19 health-related services were disrupted, and the government’s efforts to provide financial support and a measure of food security to ease these pressures were insufficient to meet the demands of people affected and infected by the virus.