Govt. recognizes transgenders but what about their health?


Transgenders remain a neglected section in Indian society. Despite the fact that transgenders have been an important part of of India's history, the fact that they still remain unaccepted by many people leaves us wondering as to why is it so hard to invite them into our lives like any other person.

India's healthcare sector is not an exception in this regard. Discrimination in healthcare system against the third gender is still evident in various parts of the country.

"We have to make our healthcare better, affordable and discrimination-free for everyone whether it is women or sexual minorities," says Shuba Chacko, the director of Aneka, an NGO that works with sexual minorities.

In April 2014, Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people as the "third gender" in a judgement that also observed that this community faces "large and pronounced discrimination" in healthcare.

The Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF), an NGO based in the east Indian city of Kolkata, is studying the medical problems faced by transgender people in urban areas and the healthcare they receive.

CWF's founder Shuvojit Moulik shared the case of Saikat, a transgender individual who died following a train accident while doctors could not decide whether to admit her to a male or female ward.

Among other respondents was a young transgender woman, Anushri Banerjee (name changed), who confesses that as a 22-year old, she was gang-raped by three men.

She said that after asking her many embarrassing questions, doctors at a public hospital in Kolkata refused to treat her – even failing to prescribe the anti-HIV medicine recommended to rape victims.

Not being able to fit into the traditional gender roles acts as a hurdle for the third gender as accessing basic healthcare services, such as for common ailments also becomes traumatic for them.

Umesh P, who visited a hospital for a kidney problem a few months ago, did not tell staff that she was a transgender individual.

"It's less complicated that way," she said. "We end up feeling embarrassed about ourselves after visiting hospitals. Treatments are cursory. Sometimes doctors prescribe medicines without even examining us. They're afraid to even feel our pulse."

Umesh said transgender people are asked personal questions about their genitals or sexual lives, and medical staff, particularly in smaller clinics and government hospitals, are judgmental about their "deviant" behaviour.

It may be noted that ignorance and indifference are the key factors that cause this identity crisis.

The society has more or less become transphobic, as is evident by the manner in which it behaves.

Akkai Padmashali, a well known transsexual activist says that trangender people are often ostracized by their families or run away from home and, having dropped out of school and with no family support, usually survive by begging or sex work.

Sex work makes this community a high-risk group for HIV according to India's National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), compounding the stigma they face, says Padmashali.

Shuba Chacko of Aneka believes greater sensitivity towards gender issues also needs to be part of the medical curriculum.

"We have to include these issues in the syllabus," she said. "The health of sexual minorities is hardly a priority in our public health system."

However, she added that at root the main problems are that in India access to health is not yet seen as right, communities seldom assert themselves, and the practices of healthcare workers often go unchallenged.

However, it may be noted that not all societies consider transgender people a taboo. Many people have come forward in support of the third gender and their rights and it it these people who we should seek inspiration from.

The call is this simple: "We are not looking for special treatment. When we visit a hospital, treat us like everyone else, because we are just as humans".

Compiled by Shweta Raj Kanwar with inputs from Al Jazeera News

(Image used only for representation)