'People think transgenders are a species with no emotion, who beg on the streets'

With all its vaunted claims of diversity, equality still remains a pipe dream for those who don’t fit into the mainstream in this city.

Sad but true: After her disciple Garima’s death on Saturday, HIV awareness activist Gauri Sawant refused to claim the body till doctors who had allegedly mistreated the transgender woman issued a formal apology for their behaviour

Just a few weeks ago, Kumari Garima (name changed) was allegedly refused treatment at a civic-run Nair Hospital. The treatment that the HIV+ transgender woman received subsequently at KEM Hospital was no less shocking, and prompted her friends and well wishers to raise their voices in protest and write to the authorities.

Click to view: HIV+ transgender turned away from one BMC hospital, ill-treated at another
MiD DAY’s report on September 26

After her death on Saturday, her guru and well-known HIV awareness activist Gauri Sawant refused to claim her body till doctors who had allegedly mistreated her disciple issued a formal apology for their behaviour.

“Sirf kaam karana hota toh mai taali bajakar kaam karwa leti. Par phir mere cheli (disciple) ke saath woh nyay nahi hota. Isliye maine doctor se maafi likhwa ke liya,” said Gauri. MiD DAY had reported on the behaviour meted out to ailing Garima at the two civic hospitals a few weeks ago (‘HIV+ transgender turned away from one BMC hospital, ill-treated at another’ September 26). Garima was made to wait for seven hours for any kind of treatment. When she was admitted to ward 8, she was made to lie next to a washroom on a mattress. During the treatment, a doctor remarked that she be sent back home, as she was HIV positive.

“They thought we are a species without emotion, who beg on the streets, I immediately wrote to the Dean and saw to it that she was taken care of. We are trying to fight the stigma attached to us, we are fighting for equality, but such instances hamper our efforts. I am holding the apology, but I don’t know what to do with it. I am meeting the chief minister and Varsha Gaikwad for another event I would like them to know about it, but…” she trailed off.

Not a one-off case
Those who work in the city’s public health system for the marginalised community claim that such cases are common. “Doctors are insensitive towards the marginalised community; they blame it on the crowds of people they have to treat every day, but actually they need to be sensitised on the issue, and we are doing it. Many a time, a transgender person is made to dress up as a man and put in the male ward, where she’s not comfortable. The biggest question that arises is always which ward the transgender should be treated in. There is a need to put issues like sensitivity towards the marginalised community in the curriculum,” said Pallav Patankar, director of HIV Programmes, Humsafar Trust.

Patankar added that this prevailing attitude of indifference or antipathy towards transgender persons often scares them from going out and seeking treatment in the public health system. “We have activists posted at certain public health hospitals to help those from the marginalised community, but we need more of them. We have conducted training workshops at hospitals and have received a good response, but in other hospitals we have faced resistance. The need for sensitisation is urgent and we are working in that direction but support is needed,” said Patankar.

Officials respond
After the incident came to light we had a meeting with Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS), where it was decided that sensitisation workshops would be held for medical staff working in civic run hospitals.
-- Additional Municipal Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar, who also looks after the affairs of Health Department, under which the civic hospitals operate

I don’t think a patient would have been refused at my hospital. No such incident came to my notice ever. I am always at the hospital and as per our policy every patient is treated.
-- Dr R N Bharmal, dean of Nair Hospital

Acting dean of KEM Hospital Subhangi Parkar, to whom Gauri had addressed her letter of complaint, could not be reached for comment. 

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