Population Foundation of India and Kolkata Rista reach out to assist the pandemic-hit transgender community in Kolkata

New Delhi: The ongoing pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on communities, businesses and livelihoods across demographics, but the plight of the transgender community has remained largely unaddressed by governments, civil society, and even social organizations. A majority of transgender persons continue to live in poverty and eke out their livelihood primarily through begging and sex work, both of which have been affected by the pandemic.

The culture of community living (ghettos and slums) in poor hygienic conditions also makes the community more susceptible to the COVID-19 infection. Moreover, in an already discriminatory and gender normative society, the COVID19 outbreak has further isolated members of the transgender community. The absence of basic documentation including Aadhaar, ration card, voter ID or bank accounts further isolates the community and restricts their access to government social security schemes.

In response to this, Population Foundation of India and Kolkata Rista, an NGO working with transgender individuals, came together to formulate an outreach program that also helped single women, widows and migrants affected by the pandemic.

Dipika Chatterjee, Kumkum Saha and Hasina Khatun (case studies attached) are just three of the 400 lives that were impacted by this initiative by Population Foundation of India in partnership with Kolkata Rista.

29- year- old Dipika Chatterjee for instance used to feed her family of six with her work as a Lagan dancer (Marriage Dancer) and sex worker. Dipika is the only earning member in her family but due to COVID-19, her life was hit by massive turmoil. She lost the access to an income due to the lockdown restrictions and social distancing norms. Even essential food items were hard to access but thanks to Population Foundation of India’s support, she was able to meet both her and her family’s needs with dignity.

Says Dipika, “Without the help I received, I don’t know how I would have fended for my family and myself.”

Dr. Santosh Kumar Giri, the spokesperson for Kolkata Rista says, “It is heartening that a mainstream organisation like Population Foundation of India helped us to reach out to so many in need. I hope this inspires other NGOs to take notice of transgender issues.”

Poonam Muttreja, Population Foundation of India’s Executive Director says, “The transgender story is one that is hardly ever told in the media. Even during the pandemic, they have struggled to receive financial aid and medical assistance. Population Foundation of India works across the country to reach the most marginalised and vulnerable but the stories we encountered in Kolkata were distressing beyond measure because they stemmed from a systemic social discrimination of an entire community.”

It was hence rewarding, she says, to support individuals who are seldom addressed in mainstream conversations about poverty and social discrimination.

Poonam adds, “This is however just a drop in the ocean. We need to shift our perceptions to include transgender issues when we discuss economic equality and social justice.”


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