Islampur / Gangarampur, May 16, 2020: Around 85 trans women from the districts of Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur in North Bengal are stuck in different districts of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh because of the lockdown to check the coronavirus pandemic. These individuals are engaged in the seasonal practice of Lagan or Launda Nach – dancing during weddings and religious festivals. The Lagan season happens twice a year and is the livelihood mainstay for hundreds of trans women from West Bengal (as also from other parts of India and neighbouring Nepal). It is often also an escape from incessant family violence.
When the sudden lockdown was announced in late March, the Lagan season was almost over. But some trans women, who earn much smaller amounts per day compared to their better established peers, had decided to stay on longer to earn more during the festival of Chaita or during occasions like child birth. Most of these dancers are now stranded without work in Arrah (Bhojpur district) and Chhapra (Saran) in Bihar, and Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh. Some are living in temporary rented accommodation while others are depending on their agents for food and shelter (these agents or middlemen help them get work during Lagan).
Launda Nach as an occupation has its own set of challenges around exploitation, violence, sexual and mental health concerns, and work uncertainty. But right now the dancers are faced with the question of sheer survival. Listen to this podcast which includes a 19-minute interview with Joyita Mondal, transgender social worker from Islampur in Uttar Dinajpur. She takes us through the trials of the Launda dancers in some detail, and raises pertinent questions that cannot be ignored.
Joyita points out, “Money, food, shelter – everything’s fast running out for these seasonal migrants who don’t seem to figure anywhere on the priority list of the government. It’s their own community members in Bihar and back home in West Bengal who’re trying to look out for them.”
On government support, Joyita says that the district administration officials are waiting for instructions from their higher-ups in the state government. In the meantime, when she is not busy making phone calls to facilitate provisions for her fellow community members stuck far away from home, she worries about how they can return home safe without getting exposed to the virus or exposing others in case they are infected but asymptomatic.
As and when they do get back, will they have safe and respectful quarantine options? ‘Safety’ and ‘respect’ – which some of us take for granted are rare and precious for many trans women at the best of times. And most government and private health institutions, in spite of court verdicts and legislations on transgender rights, fail to provide trans inclusive services.
Finally, Joyita’s biggest worry is something that should resonate with each one of us. What are the future livelihood prospects for the Launda dancers as and when the lockdown ends? What possibilities will the next Lagan season bring? Will they have to look elsewhere for work? Will there be work?
If you have any suggestions or want to provide support for the dancers, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to Joyita Mondal at email@example.com (email address of Dinajpur Natun Aalo Society, a non-profit led by Joyita) – Editor.
About the main photo: A Launda dancer from West Bengal poses for the camera somewhere in Bihar before a performance. Face blurred to maintain confidentiality. Photo courtesy Joyita Mondal