Transgenders in India face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment and lack of medical facilities. Photograph: (Getty)
Without an official identity card and no bank accounts, most of the money the community owns is in cash
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to demonetise currency notes of Rs 500 and 1,000 has caused much chaos in the country, some have also called it a strong move to put an end to the circulation of black money.
Along with the farmers, the poor and the common man, one community which has been at the receiving end is the transgenders across the country. They were only recognised as a third gender last year following a ruling by the Supreme Court of India.
Most transgenders in India do not have bank accounts or even a formal identification card, owing to which most of the money they own is in cash. The source of income for most in the community is begging and dancing at weddings and other social gatherings. Some even take up sex work to make ends meet. All of these earnings are in cash.
The demonetisation move has thus hit them hard.
A few transgenders residing in south Delhi's Okhla tell WION that they have been staying at home all day for the past two weeks since no one pays them any cash now.
Surraiya, who makes a living by dancing at weddings, says, "Weddings are either being rescheduled or the expenditure is being cut down. In the last 15 days, I have not been able to find any work. So I took to begging but there too, people are not giving us any money.”
Another member of the community tells us that they follow a guru-chela (teacher-disciple) tradition. “The savings are passed on from one generation to another in cash. We do not depend upon the banking sector as most of us have never had bank accounts until last year,” says Laila, 36.
The ones into sex work too are seeing a sharp decline in the number of customers since most of the payment happened in the denomination of Rs 500 and 1,000.
Sweety (name changed) waits on a south Delhi road but to her dismay, she has hardly had two customers in the last couple of weeks. She would otherwise have two customers every night on an average and would return home with around Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 every morning.
“Our trade has collapsed completely. Nobody is willing to spend money on us. We are running out of options to sustain ourselves,” says Sweety.
Those of us who have visited banks to get the notes exchanged were discriminated against.
“The women do not let us stand in their queue while the men pass lewd remarks. There is no separate line for us,” says Sweety's friend.
Activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, chairperson of Astitva, an organisation working for the cause of transgenders, has written to the Prime Minister seeking help for the community.
In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Laxmi writes, “Most of the community is uneducated and has never been part of the mainstream society. They have been living lives seeking alms and blessings by singing and dancing at weddings, child births and other auspicious occasions. All transactions made are in cash and we never had any bank account.
"The decision by the government is welcome and we appreciate the efforts of Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi jee. But the Hijra–Kinnar community is extremely affected by this and we ask for the government's help.”
Meanwhile, most from the community are queuing up to cash exchangers who give them Rs 350 in exchange for an old Rs 500 note.