Rajneesh Langer, India
My name is Rajneesh Langer. I am from Indore city which is in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Since my childhood I knew I was different and not like others. Later on I found out that I was gay. I am living openly with my gay status and this is known to all my family, friends and in society.
In 2011, I along with like-minded friends formed the organization, Badlaav Samiti. The vision of the organization is to have a better world with equal rights and opportunities for every individual.
We envision a nation where all the poor, needy and the deprived hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.
The main focus of our organization is:
- LGBT rights
- Training and capacity building Research
- Socio-cultural development Skill development
- Health (HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis) Sustainable development Gender
The organization has compiled, edited and filmed a documentary named ‘Sahaj’, highlighting gay rights and which is supported by UNDP, Bangkok.
What was life like before COVID-19, and service availability for community members?
Before COVID-19 life was normal. We had the Sahay Project under which we provided services, such as HIV testing falls. As and when required, we provided linkage with the local ICTC and helped clients through the initial phase of undergoing various tests and procedures before being linked. Thereafter we carried out follow ups with them and held awareness sessions.
We did condom promotion, demonstration and distribution. IC material was distributed and camps were held. We also carried out one-to-one HIV tests, counselling and linkage. Whenever in our line of work we meet people who displayed symptoms of tuberculosis, we took them to DMC for further consultation and if required, treatment.
So prior to COVID-19 our organization was in a running mode, delivering services and running projects.
With the effect of COVID-19 outbreak, how did you respond to this?
Can you detail the evolving service needs of community members during lockdown, and how community groups are able to address the issues?
With the outbreak of COVID-19, a complete lockdown came into effect. It gave little time for HIV patients as well as for community members to be prepared for a long lockdown. As the lock down period got extended, many patients moved back to their home towns or villages without required medication. We were constantly in touch with them, guiding them to the closest ART where they could pick up their medicine.
We also distributed dry rations to not only the patients and LGBT community members, but also among daily wage and migrant labourers, vegetable vendors, domestic workers, carpenters, drivers etc. Throughout this period we carried out counselling for our patients and the general public, especially on COVID-19. Further more we carried out HIV tests on a one-on-one basis meant for those who requested to know their HIV status.
What were the issues that community members in your country experienced during this time?
What are the gaps in terms of addressing the issues?
Many members were stuck and away from their families. Suddenly they found themselves unemployed and with little or no money. Many had to borrow money to go back home. In some cases family members came from nearby towns or villages to pick them up on motorcycles. Many people could not travel as they lived far away and had no means of getting back home having little money. Many community members who are HIV patients and managed to go back home, had issues concerning medicine which took a day or two to address. Unemployment is an issue that still haunts many who have either lost their job or are working for much lesser wages.
How have you, staff, and volunteers working for NGOs been coping?
When the pandemic took place, the staff which was in the field barely made it back to Indore. The next few weeks were devoted to filling reports on line. Since the staff was not reporting to the office, the load of data entry and reporting online became the work of a single person. When dry rations were being distributed, all the staff helped by distributing rations in the areas where they lived. At present, we are winded up by our work and are surviving by dipping into our savings.
How have you been able to seek resources to fill in the gaps?
Who has been able to help provide support to your work during the pandemic?
Since the pandemic most staff members received dry rations with the help of Action Aid. As far as support for our work concerns, we can only accept help from concerned authorities. Local government has not given any permission to carry on with HIV testing, but allowed us to distribute rations.
How has COVID-19 outbreak changed the way that you/your organisation and other NGOs will be working in the future?
If the pandemic continues and whenever transportation starts again—and if local administration permits it—, we will start working by observing all precautions and follow guidelines laid out by concerned authorities.
Moving forward, what do you think must be adjusted/rethink in LGBTQI work post COVID-19?
Within LGBTQI, gay men, transgenders and whole of LGBTQI here in India will have to change their way of livelihood. They will have to curtail their movements otherwise they will become a high risk group for COVID-19 infections. Others will need to find or do work where norms of safety are being followed.
Are there any positive lessons learnt from the effects of COVID-19?
First and foremost we have learnt that maintaining personal hygiene pays off. The practice of having a daily bath daily reduces chances of infection. Whenever you come home or to the office, it is advisable to wash your hands with soap and water. If that is not possible, than a sanitizer must be used.
Wearing a mask in public places also helps. Most importantly never take an unusual outbreak of any disease lightly.
What would you like to say to donors, development partners and the government?
To all donors, development partners and the government we would like to say that we would like to find a way for our work to continue so that the staff of all NGOs—who have been laid off—can come back to work, and the Key Populations whom we work with at least can start providing services .
Anything else you wish to add?
A warm message, personal observations or advice.
We would like to add that through difficult times, we have stay together to help and support each other for a better tomorrow.