They came for men and women but not us, lamented Devi Singh, 30, from the Mangalwara gharana [family] of Bhopals transgender community. Sitting at a haveli in the old city, she pines to return to work soon collecting donations door-to-door but for the lockdown, as no relief has reached them so far.
Vehicular traffic, marriages, religious festivals and birthdays social gatherings now restricted in view of COVID-19 brought the only income for Ms. Singh, head of a household nurturing 17 transgender persons dependent on collections from the once-bustling New Market. The crowd is our earning but the pandemic has stolen that away, said Ms. Singh, biding time singing bhajans at the haveli.
Around 500 members of the Mangalwara and Budhwara gharanas here, with no formal employment and already battling discrimination and stigma, are awaiting the easing of movement restrictions and businesses to get back on track for donors to be charitable.
The economy is floundering under the lockdown, so how can people think of giving to us? asked Ms. Singh. But even if gurus have to stay hungry, chelon ko bhookha nahi rehne denge. [We may starve but we will not let our disciples go hungry]. The meals, now chapatis with chutney, are two-time instead of three a day earlier. Initially, the gharanas distributed food items in slums, not knowing the lockdown would persist this long, draining their savings.
Each transgender household among the gharanas, with areas divided for collection, earlier made 20-50,000 a month. But marriages are small scale now, birthdays a closed affair. Our yearly peak collection time during the monsoon is going by, said Tamanna Jaan, 41, head of a 15-member household dependent on the Khajuri area.
Even the yearly procession called Bhujariya, which invites more than 1,500 transgender persons from across the country days after rakshabandhan, will be smaller this year.
Its a yearly ritual to invite rain that began centuries ago on the insistence of local rulers. To keep the tradition alive, we will organise it this year too but with precautions, said Shilpa Tiwari Nair, 50, head of a 35-member household under whom BHEL and Ashoka Garden areas fall.
Those belonging to the Mangalwara gharana claim their tradition to dancers in royal courts while the Budhwara gharana derives its heritage from medieval court harems. Bhopal, in its uniqueness, is the only city to be a home to both, claim the members.
Though homosexuality was decriminalised two years ago, the ghosts of the archaic law, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, still haunt us, said Ms. Singh.