Earlier this year, I was excited about participating in my very first ‘LGBT+ job fair’, even if online. A close friend alerted me about the fair, and I thought it was an encouraging initiative to facilitate economic inclusion for queer individuals.
I still think it is an encouraging initiative. The question I have after having participated is ‘encouraging for whom?’ The job fair had several corporate participants, many of them offering openings in the information technology sector. But many of the openings were for software engineers with 5-10 years of experience. Similarly, the other opportunities also seemed to be for highly skilled individuals with several years of experience.
All of this seemed galaxies away from the reality of a majority of transgender persons across India, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. How many transgender individuals are likely to have the educational qualifications and training necessary to apply for the posts available in the job fair? How many went to school in the first place and did not drop out? How many have suffered serious educational and livelihood setbacks during the pandemic?
I have more than 20 years of experience as a transgender social worker in West Bengal. It was a different matter that there was no match between my work area or experience and the openings available in the job fair. But it was disappointing to realize that the vast majority of my community members would probably never even come close to availing these opportunities. The few transgender individuals I see working in companies like Infosys and Wipro are possibly the fortunate, relatively more privileged individuals.
Perhaps the job fairs for queer individuals should involve a wider variety of employers – not just the large corporate houses from the formal sector, but also the micro, small and medium-sized businesses, most of whom are part of India’s vast informal sector. NGOs like Solidarity Foundation and Varta Trust, which facilitate access to skills building and livelihood options for queer individuals, believe that the smaller businesses may be more flexible about employing and providing on-the-job training to people with diverse genders and sexualities. I may be wrong, but it is also possible that more transgender job aspirants may be suitable for the kind of job openings the smaller businesses have.
What about the government’s responsibility in this regard? There seem to be some central government skills building programmes that have included transgender people as beneficiaries. One prominent example is the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana started by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. Some of the state governments have also started similar programmes. But how many transgender persons know about the existence of these programmes? How many who do know apply to the programmes and get through, and of them, how many continue till the end?
One of my friends, a transgender woman from Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal, applied for a hospitality management training course organized by the Haldia Municipality. The twice-a-week course was conducted entirely in English, and every evening she would call me to translate and explain the course material in Bengali. Soon after the course stopped because the master trainer became irregular in conducting the classes. Perhaps the issue of availability of skills building programmes is being addressed. But are these programmes aligned to the needs of transgender persons, and are they sustainable?
Tista Das, well known transgender activist and founder member of community-led initiative SRS Solutions, Agarpara, says, “In West Bengal, most initiatives to facilitate training and employment for transgender persons are quite vague. There’s no infrastructure for proper placement of transgender people and no one’s thinking about their skills development.”
Rahul Mitra, founder member of Trans-masculine Initiative for Support and Resistance (TISAR), agrees with Tista and says discrimination against the transgender communities is deep-rooted and widespread. He points at physical, sexual and mental harassment in schools, colleges and the workplace, which effectively deny trans masculine persons education and skills building opportunities. “They are forced to dress like women in the workplace and many trans men are even criticized for their physical structure,” he elaborates with a touch of anger in his voice.
Have the job fairs for queer individuals factored in these grim realities of transgender persons? What about the corporate agencies that participate in the fairs? If a wider talent pool is what they are looking for, can they continue to look away as countless transgender individuals with potential miss the bus?