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Home > 2024 > Transgender Persons at Delhi’s Traffic Lights | Sonu Chauhan

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 6 February 10, 2024

Transgender Persons at Delhi’s Traffic Lights | Sonu Chauhan

Friday 9 February 2024


The traffic signals are the major source of livelihood for transgender persons in Delhi. Apart from earning, they face various issues at such places.

In Delhi, millions of vehicles move on roads in different parts of the capital every day. A large chunk of the population of this city works in public and private offices, small and medium industrial units, shops, restaurants, etc. People in this city generally travel on their bikes, cars, public buses, cabs, and autos. All such vehicles move through different traffic signals in the capital to reach their destination.

While traveling across Delhi, I had interactions with people from different regions, languages, and cultures who migrated from different parts of the country. In this series of explorations of this city, one day, I had an interaction with a transgender person at a traffic light in Delhi during the afternoon time, when the vehicles do not ply more on the roads. During our conversation, I came to know that they come to this traffic light every day in the morning and go to their home late at night. This traffic light is their sole source of income for livelihood. It’s their occupation. They told me that "people go to their offices, markets, and industrial areas to earn money. This traffic light is our everything, where we earn money. It’s our office."

Be it Delhi’s hot summer, chilling winter, or heavy rainfall during the monsoon, they come to their workplace every day. They told me, "If we do not come here regularly, how will we manage to pay our room rent, food, and other expenses."

Many people in this city say that transgender persons are ‘beggars’ who come to traffic lights daily to beg. But I think it’s an incorrect way to call them ‘beggars’ because it is their sole source of income. It is the failure of the state and society at large to provide them with any dignified source of livelihood. The current social system does not favour transgender persons, which provides them with a dignified and safe work environment. There are hardly any transgender persons employed in the formal and informal sectors despite the government’s claim to provide jobs to them.

During the conversation, they revealed how they face the sexiest comments and harassment at traffic lights and in public transport on a daily basis. People who pass through the roads stare at them with judging eyes like they are strangers to this society. When they entered the buses, most of the time, they had to face sexual assault, sexist comments, etc.

There are very few people who give money to them. Most people close their vehicles’ windows after seeing them at traffic lights. Others turn their face in other directions to avoid giving money to them. But there are many people who happily give money. After receiving money, the transgender persons give blessings by putting their both hands on the heads of those who give money. Most of the couples happily give money and get their blessings.

As in the beginning, I argued that calling transgender persons as ‘beggars’ is not the correct way. The traffic lights are their workplace, a medium of livelihood. Transgender persons in society are stereotyped as sex workers, and the majority of the population looks towards them like they are lower-class citizens. The dominant gender(s) of this society does not recognize them as part of the entire human society. They are always treated as others. The sense of ’othering’ transgender persons makes them most vulnerable and marginalized in society, where they have a very limited scope of earning and making their lives normal. They can’t work in any organizations, offices, or industrial units like others. If they manage to get a job in such organizations, the surroundings make it very difficult to continue that job. People at workplaces always keep taunting, making sexual comments, and harassing them. In such an environment, they cannot continue that job, and in the end, they start their traditional work.

During my conversation with them, the transgender person revealed their work-related issues at traffic lights. During the day, they do not get any proper place to rest. They generally sit under the flyovers, trees, and bus stands to rest. They do not get washroom facilities as well. During the summertime in Delhi, their life gets more difficult at the traffic lights.

At their workplaces, they face many issues from the administration, where they are either asked to move to another traffic light or, many times, they are not allowed to stand on specific routes. During the G-20 summit in Delhi, the administration ensured that transgender persons were not seen at the traffic signals on any route of the city. According to THE WIRE (2023) report by Zeeshan Kaskar, "Transgender persons making a living at traffic signals in parts of southwest Delhi, including Dabri Mor, Uttam Nagar, Najafgarh and Dwarka, have accused police of arbitrarily arresting them over the past week on the pretext of security preparations for the G-20 summit, which is suppose to take place in September this year." The G-20 preparation in Delhi highly affected the livelihood of transgender persons, who were not allowed to work at traffic signals.

During my conversations with them, they revealed the hardships they faced in their life. The major issues they faced were during the COVID-19 pandemic in India. During the lockdown in Delhi and all over India, when the vehicles stopped plying on roads, they lost their major source of income. During the lockdown period, they struggled a lot financially, and they could not even pay their room rent, food, and other expenses. They didn’t get much help from the state as well. They are denied to many welfare schemes of the state due to not having permanent address proof and other relevant documents. There were some NGOs in Delhi who helped them financially and provided other daily use goods to them during those hardships period.

Few efforts have been made by the state to improve the living standards of transgender persons in India. To provide a dignified life and change people’s perceptions towards transgender persons, the Delhi Traffic Police in 2016 decided to train them to regulate traffic violators in Delhi. According to the INDIA TODAY (2016) report by Sneha Agrawal, a senior official said, ’"This unique initiative is an attempt to break ice and stereotypes people have about transgenders and at the same time sensitise them on traffic safety. The move will help the transgender community gain confidence and inspire them to live life with dignity.’" The sad part is that such an initiative could not meet its goal. Transgender persons did not get a positive response from the society. They had to face taunts and negative comments from people there as well.

Despite the numerous claims by the state of providing reservations to transgender persons in public educational institutions and jobs, their visibility in such places is still not very satisfactory. Still, there is a lack of recognition of transgender persons in society by the masses. As a result, transgender persons face issues of sexual harassment, lack of favourable working environments and job opportunities, and a sense of meaningful life. There is a need for a collective effort from the state and society to provide dignified jobs, a safe working environment, and a respectful life to transgender persons in India. There is a need for widespread sensitization programmes among the different sections of society about transgender persons.

(Author: Sonu Chauhan is a Ph.D. scholar at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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