Trans folks were thriving in India’s groundbreaking public shelters. Then the money stopped coming.

20-year old trans woman Kiara learns about makeup at Mitr Trust Foundation.
20-year old trans woman Kiara learns about makeup at Mitr Trust Foundation. Photo: Asma Hafiz

At Mitr Trust Foundation, a transgender shelter home based in India’s capital of New Delhi, the residents are bundled together to attend a makeup workshop. Kiara, a 20-year-old trans woman, pays attention to the instructions given by the beautician and in clean handwriting jots down the important points. With a big smile painted across her face, she says, “When I left my home, I was nothing. At this shelter home, I have become everything I could hope for.”

Under the SMILE (Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise) scheme, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment established shelter homes in accordance with The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.

There are 12 Garima Grehs (shelter homes) across several Indian cities, including Gujarat, Mumbai, Kolkata and Jaipur. They all opened between 2020 and 2021 and act as safe spaces, offering support and empowerment to the transgender community. 

Mitr Trust currently serves as a home to 18 trans residents, with a capacity of up to 25. Each resident receives shelter and support for a duration of twelve months, during which they undergo skill training to enhance their chances of getting a job upon leaving the shelter. The trust offers various courses, including makeup and computer training, to empower community members with valuable skills (a study conducted by the Human Rights Commission in 2017 revealed that approximately 50% of the transgender population had not received any formal education). Additionally, regular mental health workshops are conducted to promote overall well-being. 

The SMILE program granted each Garima Greh facility an annual amount of 36,46,500 Rupees for a period of five years. However, Rohit Yadav, Bridge Course Coordinator at Mitr Trust, says that they have been operating without funds for more than a year. Residents are concerned about the scarcity of funds, which has given rise to numerous challenges. Their primary worry is that the secure sanctuary they once relied upon may face imminent closure due to insufficient financial resources.

“We have been working without salaries as we did not receive funds,” Yadav told LGBTQ Nation. Yadav is responsible for introducing new courses to the trust and works on bringing in projects that could most benefit the community members. He assesses and evaluates suitable initiatives to further enhance the training provided by the trust. 

“How are we supposed to work like this?” he asked. “We have to pay rent and sustain ourselves. Despite reaching out to the Ministry numerous times, we have not gotten any response. This is disheartening.” LGBTQ Nation also made multiple attempts to reach out to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for a comment on this matter, but did not yield any response.

Mitr Trust serves as a home to 18 residents.
Mitr Trust serves as a home to 18 residents. Photo by Asma Hafiz.

The 2011 Census in India was the first in the nation’s history to include data on transgender people. Although the census faced challenges regarding inclusivity and precision, it managed to provide an estimate of India’s transgender population, which amounted to approximately 487,803 individuals. This is likely an undercount, as transgender activists believe many trans people remain closeted in fear of social exclusion and discrimination. 

Bella Sharma, the program manager at Mitr Trust, highlights the strain imposed on the residents due to repeated eviction notices. The distressing circumstances have forced the staff to make difficult decisions, including parting ways with the cook due to financial constraints. However, the staff have stepped up to the challenge, taking on the responsibility of preparing meals for everyone at the shelter house. The residents say that they will fight until they achieve a favorable outcome.

“We are doing everything we can to run this initiative even if it means spending money from our own pockets,” Sharma said. “If we lose this space, it would mean the children who got refuge here will be forced to do sex work or beg for a living. We can’t let that happen.”

Mitr Trust has only two residents who identify as trans men. In 2021, Krishna Singh, a 27-year-old trans man, discovered Mitr Trust through a friend. Singh desperately needed a place to stay due to unemployment and the constraints imposed by the pandemic. 

At 20, Singh made the difficult decision to leave his family home, as they did not accept him for who he truly was. After enduring seven years of adversity, Krishna finally found a sanctuary where he could embrace his true self without fear of judgment. The thought of bidding farewell to this refuge fills him with profound sadness.

“It remains a difficult task for trans individuals like myself to secure stable employment,” he said. “The job interview process often subjects us to dehumanizing questions that undermine our dignity. However, finding solace in spaces like this has empowered me. Here, I have discovered strength within myself making it all the more crucial for me to hold onto this supportive environment.”

Shobha Subhash, the project manager at a transgender shelter in Gujarat, says that other transgender shelters face similar challenges. They have been without funding for the past eighteen months. Subhash acknowledges the assistance of the trustees who have provided financial support when they were struggling. Without their aid, she would not have been able to repay the substantial loans she acquired to meet the basic needs of the shelter residents. 

“Why did the government start this initiative if they are not able to provide us with funds?” Subhash asked. “Due to social exclusion, we anyway find difficulty in finding a house. How will we sustain ourselves if we lose this place?” 

Gathered around a long table, community members come together for lunch. Kiara, putting aside her makeup accessories, joins her peers with a sense of confidence. She firmly believes that once she masters her skills as a makeup artist, job opportunities will come her way. “I wouldn’t have dared to dream about a better future if it wasn’t for this place,” she said. “We cannot lose this.”

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