Board member of National Council for Transgender Persons
I am 28 years old, from Delhi, India. I identify myself as a Transman. I started my transition at the age of 18 in 2010. I am a national medalist in speed skating and India’s first transman bodybuilder and have won many competitions since 2018.
In India, I am a board member of National Council for Transgender Persons it is announced by Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment. In National Human Rights Commission I am a member of LGBT core group. I have completed my law degree in 2016 and for 1 year I have worked on a project to empower the transgender community in India. If one set a goal with determination, one can achieve unimaginable heights.
What was life like before COVID-19, and service availability for transmen?
“Life has always been difficult for transmen – a constant battle – both internal and external. A mind and soul that does not agree with its body and a society that is always pushing you to fit into its set norms. Pre-Covid the possibilities of employment were slim but possible. Covid-19 has not only dried up any possibility of employment but has also pushed the transmen community to the brink of starvation.”Aryan Pasha
With the effect of COVID-19 outbreak, how did you respond to this? Can you detail the evolving service needs of transmen during lockdown, and how community groups are able to address the issues?
Covid brought with it not just confinement but the possibility of going to bed hungry. This was the time I had to fight not just for myself but to ensure that I could assist my transmen community who were at an absolute loss for jobs, home rentals and any means of generating money for themselves. I ran donation campaigns on different crowd funding platforms and started distributing rations to the community personally. Though dry rations came as a big relief, it also showed how vulnerable the community was if they lost their already scarce revenue resources.
What were the issues that transmen in your country experienced during this time? What are the gaps in terms of addressing the issues?
Transmen are the most invisible community within the LGBTQ umbrella. In a country like India when there has been no formal reforms set for the transwomen community, expecting something to happen for transmen during Covid was just a dream. There were a few groups active for transwomen but none which focused on the plight of transmen. It was during this time that I realized the need to have a sustainable shelter for transmen which could not only provide them with a safe haven but also income generating options.
How have you, staff, and volunteers been coping?
‘’When the times get tough, the tough get going!’’ Although we started the relief work on our own, we understood how dire the situation was going to get. We started looking at more options and tie-ins so that we could ensure that no one was left behind.
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?
Joining hands and reaching out to all possible resources was the only option to triumph during the pandemic. We were fortunate enough that many foundations, companies and eminent personalities came to our aid. A joint effort has led to us being able to assist over 50,000 families with rations. This included people not just from the LGBTQ but also PLHIV, Sex workers, senior citizens and the most destitute. I would like to mention a few of our allies – Donatekart, Nammyohodaan, Phool Versha Foundation, Mr. Sonu Sood, Chef Vikas Khanna, Lions Club, Rotary Club and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. We distributed Transmen kits door to door and added testosterone injections for those who had an endocrinologist’s prescription and sanitary pads for the pre-transitioned.
How has COVID-19 outbreak changed the way that you/your company will be working in the future?
During Covid-19 I came across many transmen and transwomen while providing essential items and I noticed that many transmen from rural India came to Delhi in for a job and to be able to transition but they struggle to find a safe space.
Although the core of our organisation has always been to the mainstream community, the Covid pandemic has strengthened our belief that this needs to be done for everyone. Imagine when sex work, begging or the badahi system (ritual performance)is your only means of income and suddenly social distancing becomes the norm. An already starving community gets pushed to the brink of existence. We have started working on sustainable shelters which will have options of data entry work, out sourced laundry work, call center and a few other projects. These job skills learnt at the shelter will also prepare the community for a life of dignity.
Moving forward, what do you think must be adjusted/rethink in LGBTQI work post COVID-19?
I guess the need to push faster reforms through the government is the need of the hour. The need for identity has been surpassed by the need for survival.
Are there any positive lessons learnt from the effects of COVID-19?
During this pandemic I have learnt we are human beings and we have to help each other
Covid has taught us many things, including how unprepared we were as a human race. But it is all not negative because Covid has also shown us the strength of the human spirit. There have been a lot of heroes who stood up and showed what being human truly means. I am proud of what our organisation could do during these turbulent times. Distributing rations worth Rs. 20 million (approximately USD 270,000) in these 150 days is no easy feat.
What would you like to say to donors, development partners, and the government?
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who has supported us. We could not have achieved what we did without your love and support.
Anything else you wish to add?
Let us be better humans first.