As transgender activists in Assam raise the demand for a dedicated quarantine centre in the state, many from the community have found safe refuge in Kerala and are reluctant to return home.
- Last Updated: May 23, 2020, 12:13 PM IST
It has been a happy homecoming for 28-year-old Pebam Lanchenba Meitei and two of her friends who returned from Bengaluru and were shifted on Saturday to the first and only government quarantine centre for the transgender community in Manipur.
“We are overwhelmed. We are thankful to everyone who made this possible. We undertook a bus journey from Bangalore on May 14 and it took four days to reach Imphal. We were first quarantined at the community quarantine facilities in our respective districts where they had only two sections – male and female. Now that we have been transferred to our own community centre for transgender persons, it feels wonderful, quite like an achievement,” said Pebam who had been working as a hotel front desk agent in Bengaluru.
Possibly India’s first quarantine centre for the transgender community, the 40-bedded government facility was set up by the state health and family welfare department in coordination with the social welfare department at the Government Ideal Blind School in Takyelpat.
“There are a number of quarantine centres in Manipur for stranded people returning from other states, and while attending to them, we realised that those from the transgender community were facing inconvenience when accommodated with either male or female inmates,” said Ngangom Uttam Singh, director of the social welfare department.
“The health and family welfare department helped us with medical supplies and protective gear, and we took care of the logistics to set up this dedicated quarantine centre for transgender persons in Manipur. We are expecting 40-50 people from the trans community returning from different parts of the country,” he added, stating that it will only house people returning from ‘green’ and ‘orange’ zone states.
Santa Khurrai, a Manipuri transgender activist who leads the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMANA), had approached the state government with a proposal to build a separate quarantine unit for members of her community returning from other states.
“We are in a situation for which we were not prepared. The transgender community has always lived in the margin and has been vulnerable to any situation – with or without coronavirus. To bring them back and push them to live in the government community quarantine centre could be problematic. They have certain issues associated with their privacy, and they need a comfortable environment,” said Khurai.
With Manipur setting an example, the transgender community in Assam, too, wants a separate quarantine facility for their returnees. Assam’s prominent transgender advocate and activist Swati Bidhan Baruah said it is imperative of the state government to address the health issues of her community.
“We, too, want a separate quarantine centre for transgender persons because it is essential in matters of health, a vital aspect. Due to hormone replacement therapy, one would never know what treatment is best suited for them. If any trans member is found to be Covid-19 positive, there is no separate centre for them in Assam yet,” said Baruah.
However, trans community members from Assam living in Kerala are unwilling to return home.
“We are more than happy to be in Kerala. There are so many Assamese living here and earning a livelihood. We feel very safe and secure here. Hospital facilities in Kerala are better than any other state,” said Avinash Chetia, a renowned trans make-up artist in Kerala.
Along with Avinash, three others from the trans community hailing from Assam have decided to stay back in Kerala.
“We are settled here. In good and bad times, we are with Kerala. And as transgender persons, we are much respected by one and all here. The government has done much for us and we have never faced any racial discrimination. They are providing food and essentials regularly for the trans community. I availed this benefit for the fourth time in two months, and we also got our special Ramadan goody bag,” said 31-year-old Jaanmoni Das, another celebrated trans make-up artist who has made Kerala his home for the past 10 years.
“I wish people everywhere would treat the transgender community with kindness in these difficult times,” said Das.