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India appoints trans National Council with coronavirus and stigma at top of the agenda

India appoints trans National Council with coronavirus and stigma at top of the agenda

  • The coronavirus pandemic has hurt hijra incomes – stopping weddings, sex work and making begging harder.
Hijras in New Delhi, India.

COVID-19, discrimination and housing will top the agenda for India’s new National Council for Transgender Persons.

The new council will bring together senior government figures, state governments, transgender representatives from across India and experts.

India’s social justice minister will chair the council. And senior representatives from the country’s health, housing, employment, pensions, legal affairs and rural departments will also attend.

Around 2million trans people live in India. And while ‘hijra’ or ‘third sex’ people play an important role in weddings and other ceremonies, society still shuns them. Many survive by begging or selling sex.

Indian trans campaigner Laxmi Narayan Tripathi described the new council as ‘historic’. However it’s not clear what power the council will have to make change.

Nonetheless, she told Thomson Reuters Foundation:

‘One point that runs as a spinal cord in all of this is stigma and discrimination. We have to get down to work with a big advocacy plan to end this.’

Coronavirus hurts trans incomes

The Indian government’s creation of the council comes after it passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act last year.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has made things even harder for trans people. It has stopped sex work, weddings and prevented begging on trains – leaving many hijra with no income.

Meera Parida, a member of the council from the All Odisha Third Gender Welfare Trust, hopes it will help people access government support and affordable rent. Parida said:

‘While certain government schemes have helped them, including pension and food ration, others have not reached them.’

Meanwhile not everyone is happy with the council.

Trans activist Karthik Bittu Kondaiah said the government had selected members in an ‘undemocratic’ way.

Moreover, Anindya Hajra, from LGBT+ charity Pratyay Gender Trust, said the council doesn’t represent lower-caste and poorer trans Indians.