Guwahati: The Gauhati High Court’s order, directing the state government to create a separate wing for transgenders at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) has been welcomed by community members, who believe the order acknowledges their long-standing demand for a safe and discrimination-free place for accessing healthcare facilities. 

Swati Bidhan Baruah, transgender rights activist who filed the PIL in this matter, called it a “landmark order” for the transgender community. 

Speaking with EastMojo, community members said the news of a dedicated wing is a major relief for them. At present, trans people have to travel to other metropolitan cities for any kind of medical issues, which costs a lot. A healthcare facility in GMCH will significantly help them cut medical costs significantly, they say.

The order

The Gauhati High Court on March 23 directed the Assam government to create a separate wing for the transgender community at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH).

The court also asked the Central government to provide a list of beneficiaries under the Ayushmaan Bharat Yojana who are members of the transgender community from Assam.

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A division bench of the Gauhati High Court, led by Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak, was hearing a petition filed by Swati Bidhan Baruah, transgender rights activist on issues relating to health and medical facilities for members of the transgender community.

The order read, “Ms D Borah, learned Standing Counsel, Health and Family Welfare Department shall also apprise this Court as to how soon a separate wing for the treatment of transgender community can be opened in Guwahati Medical College and Hospital and whether the State Government has any scheme which looks after the health issues of members of transgender community.”

Reacting to the directive, Baruah said, “It is a historic and landmark order for the state of Assam, where the transgender could have its own health wing at Gauhati Medical College from now onwards.”

Baruah, who is also the Northeast’s first transgender judge, had filed the PIL in 2018 when the Ayushman Bharat scheme was being rolled out in Assam. She said, “I saw that the entire transgender community was excluded [from it].”

She highlighted that in the upcoming dedicated wing at GMCH, an expert who has dealt with transgenders in the past will be made available. Along with sex reassignment surgery, the wing will look into the community’s health-related issues.

What does the community want?

To get a better understanding of what members of the trans community require at such a hospital dedicated wing, EastMojo spoke with a few of them. 

Welcoming the order, Maya Kalita, a 27-year-old transwoman from Mizra, the suburbs of Guwahati, called it “good news.” She said the community faces a lot of physical torture at home and has a lot of sexual-health related concerns, and a dedicated wing at GMCH will definitely help them.

An author and model, Kalita said the community requires free treatment and medicines, adding that the most important service they need is psychiatric counselling and hormone therapy. 

She also said people from the community should be hired to work in the transgender wing. 

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Purab Brahma, a 25-year-old transman from Kokrajhar, spoke about how the community has to deal with “inhuman behaviour.”

“Whenever we go to the hospital, people look at us weirdly, the staff is rude, and sometimes, even doctors don’t talk properly.”

He said the dedicated wing should have well-trained and friendly staff who can address their issues.  

At the same time, Brahma is concerned if people without Gender Identification Certificate (GID) would be able to avail any services at the dedicated wing.

A graphic designer from Guwahati, transman Divik Bhattacharjee shares Brahma’s concerns. He said healthcare workers should be friendly towards trans people and have basic knowledge about the community, and respect their pronouns. 

The 27-year-old added that the wing should have full infrastructure and facility for Sex reassignment surgery (SRS), so that people don’t have to travel to big cities to get the surgery done here. 

He said that there should be provision of counselling for parents of trans-kids so they are able to come to terms and accept their child’s identity. 

Goalpara-based Rishi Roy, who is currently working in Guwahati, said all kinds of surgeries should be performed at the dedicated wing itself. 

He said they must be treated like a man or woman, without any indifference. 

Tamil Nadu hospitals lead the way

GMCH’s transgender ward, whenever it turns to reality, will join the likes of Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai, which became the country’s first hospital to have a full-fledged multi-speciality clinic dedicated to the third gender in 2019. 

Chennai has three hospitals – Stanley Hospital, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Kilpauk Medical College – where transgenders can go for surgery, said Sahodaran, a community-based organisation in Chennai, which provides health services and support to empower transgenders.

Speaking with EastMojo, Vaishnavi, Tamil Nadu’s first transwoman auto driver shared her experience of getting breast implants at Kilpauk Medical College. 

After her sex reassignment surgery, Vaishnavi said, she felt incomplete and ashamed as a woman without breasts. 

Vaishnavi said when she went to the hospital she was asked why she wants the surgery and was then sent for counselling. Once all the paperwork went through, she was operated free of cost. The only expense she had to bear was that of the implant material. 

She said the doctors were friendly and very well mannered. They took good care of her and sent her home only after she was completely fit to leave.

Vaishnavi’s experience, however, is one of the rare positive stories we come across, said A Gunaseelan of Sahodaran. A dedicated wing for addressing the medical needs of transgenders will help in more such positive encounters for the people of the community. 

Speaking with EastMojo, Sampreeti Das, a Guwahati-based Psychological Counselor, said, “The base of problems faced by the transgender community is the negative and ignorant attitude of healthcare professionals. This leads to concerns of biased judgements and inappropriate questions about their way of life, sexual behaviour and existence.”

She added, “I have met medical professionals, too, who have expressed an unacceptable attitude towards the transgender population, where they rationalise their beliefs on the grounds of biological anomaly and anti-evolution pattern of life, (basically being non-reproductive).”

Shedding light on how poor healthcare can take a toll on the mental health of transgenders, Das said, “When the help-seeking behaviour is discouraged by repeated aversive direct and indirect experiences, there is late detection of many health issues, sometimes, beyond good prognosis. So in general, the entire community may manifest helplessness and hopelessness in multiple aspects of life.”

Is GMCH ready for a dedicated transgender ward?

EastMojo spoke with Dr Abhijit Sarma, Superintendent of GMCH, to find out what the hospital will offer at the dedicated ward. “As of now, there is no direction for opening up a separate wing for the transgender community and when it comes, we’ll give our opinion,” he said.

Explaining why there is no requirement for a separate wing, Dr Sarma said, “Technically speaking, when HIV patients or Hepatitis positive patients come to our hospital, we treat them like any other patient. There is no differentiation between an HIV patient and a patient who just walks into the hospital for smaller issues. For us, each patient is important and we treat them all equally.”

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