Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes in an attempt to curb corruption, the streets of Kolkata look eerily empty. Standing at a traffic signal in Jadavpur, Rani (34) prays for a traffic jam. For her, and many others of the transgender community who make a living out of begging, both life and means of living have come to a grinding halt.
While she usually makes around Rs 500 a day, she now finds people reluctant to even part with loose change. “I have asked at least 10 people today. I have made no money over the past two days. Not even Rs 20. All the money I have at home are in the form of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” she says.
On Thursday, banks across the city reopened to serpentine queues. Having faced a bitter cash crunch over the past two days, the long lines did not seem to matter to people as long as they got some money in hand. But for Rani, even this is not an option.
Her problem, she explains, isn’t that she can’t open a bank account. While the Supreme Court passed a judgment that grants legal recognition to India’s transgender community two years ago, the RBI had even directed all banks to include the ‘third gender’ option in their banking forms in April last year. The problem arises from the fact that many transgenders don’t have any supporting identification documents to fill out the mandatory ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) forms.
“I had gone to open a bank account so I could keep my money there and even pay taxes. They asked me for my birth name, which is Raja. The bank teller asked me why I wear a sari if I have a man’s name. I felt so humiliated that I left,” she recalls.
This could have easily been brushed off as a bitter experience, but as Rani found out later, she couldn’t have filled out the KYC forms even if she wanted to. KYC documents of most banks require, as a security measure, various documents to prove identity, like one’s PAN card number and proof of address documents like voter ID cards, ration cards, drivers’ licence and passport. If these aren’t available, other documents like a secondary school certificate or a family ration card will suffice. But for many transgenders, who run away from home at a young age because of prejudice within the family or even harassment, proof of identity is a rare privilege.
With no money in hand, Gita Das, another transgender, says she is not sure whether she will get to eat today.
“It is not uncommon for us to want to make a complete break from the lives we have run away from. A simple thing like an identity card is a nightmare for us. Private banks in particular don’t encourage us to open accounts and in the past, we have simply avoided the system that doesn’t want us and have kept our money with us. This allows us to live our meagre lives on our own terms,” she says.
Previously, the state government had constituted the Transgender Development Board for the 30,000 plus-strong community. The board is headed by a chairperson appointed by the state Cabinet, and has 12 members and representatives from various communities.
The board’s duties include looking into matters like ID cards, health, education and overall development of the community. But while the board has taken some key decisions, including announcing separate toilets for the third gender in colleges and greater inclusion, a source said, “The problem is that the transgender community is innately fractured. These individuals have fought so long to not protect their identity that it is difficult for us to bring them on board.
The distribution of ID cards is also affected by lack of awareness about our provisions and we are working hard to rectify that.”
At the end of the day, Rani, and many others like her, is still waiting at the traffic signal. At home, she has a couple of Rs 500 notes, and yet, she is penniless.