Mehrab Afridi, Abdul Sattar

LANDI KOTAL/MARDAN: The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March made the lives of transgender people more difficult. There are plenty of challenges that made them suffer more than others.

In Pakistan, the transgender community is the most vulnerable and marginalized segment of society. Most of these people are disowned by their families and are forced to live with other members of the trans community.

The majority of these people earn their living by dancing at wedding functions but the ban on holding marriage gatherings during the lockdown period rendered them jobless. Many complain that they were completely abandoned by the government and were not provided any financial assistance or relief during the pandemic.

A member of the transgender community in Peshawar, who uses to call herself Namkeen, tells TNN that she faced the toughest days of her life during the lockdown. “Everything dried up suddenly. I had no money to arrange the two-time meal for myself,” she recalls. “I couldn’t pay my rent and utility bills,” she adds.

“Dancing is my profession and is the only source of my income. When the government imposed a ban on holding marriage functions, we were unable to earn a livelihood as we do not have any alternate option,” Namkeen explains.

According to her, some members of her community had started other businesses and set up boutiques and salons before the lockdown. “But they too had to shut their businesses as they could not pay workers’ salaries and rent,” Namkeen continues.

Social worker Taimur Kamal, who works for the rights of trans-people, says that the coronavirus pandemic affects every segment of society but the transgender community has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He regrets that the government didn’t support them during the country-wide lockdown.

Another transgender who prefers to call herself Muskan points out that normally, landlords demand inflated rent from the trans-people. “If the monthly rent of a house or rent is Rs10,000, they demand Rs20,000 from us,” she reveals.

Muskan further says that despite court orders, they were forced by the property owners to pay rents in advance. Those who couldn’t pay the rent were asked to evacuate the houses, she informs and laments that the government didn’t provide any relief during the lockdown period.

According to the statistics provided by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Social Welfare department, there are about 400 registered transgender in the province. However, right activists say the actual number of trans-people in the province is more than 5000 and they are living in a highly pathetic situation due to the alleged negligence of the government. According to them, the trans-people have not been supported through the government’s flagship “Ehsas” cash assistance program.

During all these days, when most of the transgender people were passing through a difficult time and expecting some relief from the government and other charity organizations, a trans-person from Mardan rose to support the community.

Miss Mardan, a well-known transgender, not only supported the community from her own resources but also encouraged other philanthropists to come forward and help the deserving persons.

“The transgender people whose sole source of income is dancing, were passing through a financial crunch as there were no functions to attend,” Miss Mardan reveals in an interview with TNN.

“I am financially stable as compared to other trans-persons and I have been supporting orphans and other destitute persons even before the pandemic. When the lockdown was imposed, I realized that the majority of our community members have been rendered jobless, so I decided to support them,” she continues.

“I did whatever I could. I distributed food ration among the transgender and provided cash assistance to the needy ones. Apart from the trans-community, I also support other poor families. This made me contented and gratified,” Miss Mardan remarks. “I realize the problems they are being faced with because I know what poverty is. I personally experience all such situations,” she adds.

According to her, wedding receptions have resumed after the lockdown was lifted and the transgender have started attending dance parties and earning their livelihoods. Still, she advises, there is a drastic need to follow the SOPs and other preventive measures.

“The pandemic is not yet over. The transgender should follow social distancing and avoid contacting more people while performing in a function. They should stay indoors and avoid roaming in bazaars and streets randomly. They should also take care of their hygiene,” she maintains.

Social worker Qamar Naseem, who works for the rights of trans-people, says there are more than 40,000 trans-persons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa whereas the national census held in 2017, registered only 913 transgender in the province and 27 in the merged districts.

He regrets that the government did not include the transgender community in the Ehsas cash assistance program where each deserving family was given Rs12000 during the lockdown.