It is no hidden fact that a population existing in a political conflict experiences an increased susceptibility when it comes to mental health issues, apart from the economic strife and socio-cultural struggles. A population that is already pushed to the margins, unfortunately also has the marginalized within the margins, who suffer doubly. This is especially true when it comes to the LGBTQ community of Kashmir.
A set of unique variables converge together to place the LGBTQ community in Kashmir in an unusually difficult spot. And in times of the Pandemic- COVID 19, their woes seem to only increase. There are not many organizations & activists working for the welfare of the LGBTQ community in Kashmir, & given the tough circumstances of operating in a volatile environment, & we understand why.
In the larger umbrella of the political, as news related to politics takes all the coverage, other equally important issues are relegated to the background, including the challenges and problems faced by the sexual minorities in Kashmir.
In this backdrop, the work of a non-profit organization called Sonzal Welfare Trust becomes highly relevant and noteworthy. It is important to talk about the Trust, not only because of the relief work it has been doing on the ground but also because of the field it covers. The founder of the organisation, Aijaz Bund is the first activist working for the cause of the LGBTQ in Kashmir and is also the author of a book on the subject. A crucial point that the book manages to highlight is how so far, not just the civil society but also the more invested academia has conveniently overlooked and played mere spectators when it comes to the sufferings and experiences of the LGBTQ in Kashmir.
Sonzal Welfare Trust was set up in 2017. It aims to build a supportive institutional framework, incorporating SHGs for the transgender community. Their primary purpose is to enable the Transgender community to live a life of dignity, with access to sexual and mental health care services for their sustenance. In addition to that, the organisation strives to influence policies to promote government-sponsored transposing of transgender and empowering the community with skills for self-sustenance and financial independence.
As per Dr. Aijaz, “We provide a wide range of services including psychosocial care, legal assistance, advocacy, court actions, awareness and sensitization, capacity building and creating community safe space.”
The social media handles of Sonzal welfare is also playing an instrumental role when it comes to the mental health of the community by providing outlets to voice their experiences, if asked for, anonymously. Apart from their commendable work at the grass-root levels, in providing assistance, be it economic, emotional, mental, or legal, this kind of work on social media becomes crucial for various reasons. The key reason being that this provides an entry point into initiating dialogue within the society about the existence and experiences of the community. This becomes pivotal for generating empathy in society at large and to tackle homophobia.
Aijaz Bund says, “It is not the LGBTQ community that is the problem, it is the homophobia in which the society is interspersed which is the actual problem. Further, with frequent communication shutdowns, like the snapping of internet, slow internet speed, currently running in 2G, the relief work and the reaching-out efforts by the NGOs and other individuals are affected substantially.”
In Kashmir, the intersectionality of conflict and identity at the margins within the margins only adds to exacerbate the suffering of the LGBTQ. Currently, the Trust is waging a legal battle and has filed a PIL, petitioning that the state implements the NALSA verdict and form a transgender policy. At the same time, if one is to go by the general understanding, the lived experiences as well as what the research and existing studies tell us, the acceptance for the transgender community is relatively better than that for the LGB.
Sonzal has not only been at the forefront from the inception of the COVID19 pandemic and has been addressing the unique challenges of the community, but also taking tangible steps like initiating telephonic counseling services and mobilizing community resource support to address issues like scarcity of food and medicines and domestic violence. So far, they have been able to cater to the ration needs of 120 families and the drive is still going on.
In these circumstances, the efforts of all the individuals coming together to take up this cause further are commendable and this adds the fuel of hope to the flame ignited by the struggles of sexual minorities for a life of dignity.
If you would like to offer your support to Sonzal Welfare Trust, please visit their profile.