A Kashmiri transgender person plays a percussion instrument during a marriage function in Srinagar. Most transgender people in the state earn a living by singing and dancing at marriage functions or matchmaking. (Photo by Umer Asif/ucanews.com)
India's Jammu and Kashmir state has announced special financial assistance and schemes for the welfare of transgender people, the least talked about community in the country's only Muslim-majority state.
Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu presented the 2018 state budget on Jan. 11 with a proposal that transgenders be treated as living below the poverty line to help them get state subsidies.
Such people are considered as not having enough money for a full meal a day and are entitled to subsidized food grains, electricity and water. They also qualify for medical insurance and a monthly sustenance pension for the elderly.
Government census figures show the state has 477 transgender people, but only 98 have registered with the Department of Social Welfare as declaring oneself as transgender is considered taboo in Indian society.
In the violence-marred state, where a three-decade armed militant struggle aims to free the region from Indian rule, the transgender community is the least talked about section of society.
Generally, transgender people are considered a shame and bad luck by Indian families. Abandoned by relatives and forced to live a life of isolation, they are also rarely employed. Their lack of records and identity documents makes it impossible for them to use the government's welfare schemes.
Transgenders mostly earn a livelihood by singing and dancing at marriage functions, begging on the streets and matchmaking.
Ghulam Nabi, a 73-year-old transgender, told ucanews.com that he was 20 when he started a matchmaking job and vividly remembers the harassment and taunts he had to endure every day.
"I was 18 when both my parents died and I was abandoned by my two elder brothers. I was the youngest of all siblings," he said.
Nabi said the state's financial scheme would be a relief for him and other aged transgender people.
For Nazir Ahmad, a 41-year-old transgender from central Kashmir's Budgam district, said matchmaking fetches him 30,000 rupees (US$475) a month. "But who will take care of me when I grow old and am unable to earn?" he asked.
"Now I can rely on the government pension scheme."
Shabir Ahamd Wani, a social activist in Kashmir, said although it is illegal to discriminate against people based on religion, caste, sex or place of birth, transgender people continue to face social discrimination and harassment.
"The discrimination kills their confidence to take part in social and political decision making. They avoid schools because of taunting and harassment. Their poor education makes then unqualified for any good jobs," Wani told ucanews.com.
Mohammad Khurshid Alam, senior leader of Kashmir's ruling PDP party, said the social situation of the transgender community is Kashmir was "worrisome" and they needed urgent government assistance.
Although they are not a politically decisive group, "the government is duty-bound to provide them with a helping hand," Alam said.
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