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Garima Grehs Crippling: Government Stops Funding for Trans Shelter Homes

In this report, we speak to multiple Project Directors of Garima Grehs who confirm that the government has stopped the promised funding and the trans shelter homes are on the verge of collapse.

By Bhaswati Sengupta
New Update

Garima Greh
Transgender person | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“I took shelter in a Garima Greh when I faced many problems from my family. In the Garima Greh, I have seen that the food quality was not good. The management is trying to do their best but are unable to because they have funding related issues. I have also seen instances where the police have barged into the Garima Greh and misbehaved with the trans community people. The grehs lack basic facilities, but still, we trans community people don’t have any complaints because we are so tormented by the outside world that we feel that the Garima Grehs are a ray of hope and a safe spot for us,” says Priyanka Sharma, a trans woman from New Delhi.

Bittu KR, Genderqueer Trans Man and Associate Professor of Biology and Psychology at the Ashoka University speaks to The Probe’s Bhaswati Sengupta.

Priyanka, a native of Assam, left her home in 2021 after she faced harassment from her family. She took shelter in a Garima Greh in Delhi and has lived there since 2021. Priyanka tells The Probe that no doubt the Garima Grehs are a novel concept and are meant to provide succour to the trans community members, but they are today in dire need of financial assistance and support from the government.

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“Garima Greh”, a government of India initiative, was started to rehabilitate the members of the transgender community. The grehs are shelter homes or rehabilitation centres established by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to benefit transgender persons. But these days, the Garima Grehs across India face a funding crunch and neglect from the government. 

As per the government, 12 Garima Greh shelter homes for transgender persons were set up on a pilot basis in 9 states. According to the government’s February press statement, “In total, 654 transgender persons have benefited through Garima Greh projects”. The government has also claimed in its statement that it aims to set up more such Garima Grehs as per guidelines and that this would be a continuous process. But as we spoke to members running these shelter homes, we learned that even the Garima Grehs that have already been set up are financially unstable and are struggling to make ends meet. 

No Money To Pay Rent

Rudrani Chhetri, Project Director of Mitr Trust Garima Greh in New Delhi, confirms to The Probe that the Garima Greh has stopped receiving government funds and is on the verge of shutting down its operation. “If the government had entrusted the Garima Greh to some private agency, they would have closed down their operations by now. But since we belong to the civil society and NGO sector and are socially conscious, we are begging and pleading with others for funds to keep this place up and running.”

Rudrani explains, “When we initially signed the contract, we were told we would be provided 40 per cent funding. For the first year we were provided 40 per cent funding by the government and after that nothing at all. Last year we had zero funding. This year, so far, we have not received any funding. The problem is that they are not saying anything. They are not telling us whether the funding has stopped or will be resumed. They have kept us in the dark. I hope the government rethinks on this, understands our plight, and releases the funds”. 

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The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020 paved the way for the government’s pilot scheme and the SMILE (Support for Marginalised Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise) came into being under which the Garima Grehs were set up in nine states. The SMILE scheme launched by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment states that the government will release the grants at a 40-40-20 ratio. (40% at the initial stage, 40% after six months of the operation and 20% at the end of the financial year). But the government is now tightlipped about why the promised funds have not been released.

“If you see the kind of money that was allocated, that money is not even enough to run a Garima Greh in a metropolitan city. We have stringent guidelines that we need more than 3000 square feet of space, but the rent given to us is 40,000. In a city like Delhi, this small amount is not going to work out. We pay more than we get from our pocket through donations or other resources. Now, we have stopped getting even the little support we used to get. As it is, getting a space for transgender persons is very difficult. It is very difficult to make the landlords understand, especially now that we do not even have the money to pay them the rent. Besides the rent, we need to give good food, clothes and other basic amenities for the trans members. We are struggling to keep this up and running,” avers Rudrani.

Garima Grehs Are Not Safe

Apart from the funding crunch, the Garima Grehs are still not considered a safe rehabilitation centre for the trans community. The grehs lack adequate infrastructure, including security measures, which have led to incidents that have compromised the safety of many trans persons in the past.

“The government has been only paying lip service to the trans community and are not following it through in terms of financial commitment so that the scheme is actually reliable. For many years, trans people running away from their homes had absolutely no government support, and activists only supported them. Then finally, the Garima Grehs came up, and it was a good move, but the trans people not just needed shelter. They needed a safe shelter. There have been multiple incidents in the past where violent incidents were reported in Garima Grehs. Families of transgender persons have barged into Garim Grehs and have caused physical harm to trans people. So, much more needs to be done to make these shelter homes habitable, reliable and safe,” says Bittu KR, Genderqueer Trans Man and Associate Professor of Biology and Psychology at Ashoka University.

“The one thing that the government can do is ensure that there are paid security personnel to guard these Garima Grehs, and members of the Trans community can be employed for this purpose as they often lack employment opportunities. The government should also ensure that there should be regular police checks, and the calls from Garima Grehs to the police must be taken seriously. In general, the police think that people don’t need security or protection from their natal families. In fact, they often think it is their job to reunite the abused child or affected victim with their families. So, the police must be sensitised, and the government should start building awareness within their departments about how government bodies must handle issues related to the trans community. But what can we expect from a government that freezes funds meant for these shelter homes,” asks Bittu. 

We Will Keep The Flame Burning But For How Long?

Maya Awasthy, Project Director of Tweet Foundation Garima Greh in Mumbai, states that the foundation has tried its best to keep the flame burning but asks how long it can sustain without support. “Funding from the ministry has been stuck for the last 18 months. Funding is important from the government, but we are doing this for a cause, and therefore we are very particular that we will not stop our services. We have written to the central government requesting them to release funds, but so far, we have not heard back from them”. 

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Maya also claims that the scheme is also not monitored periodically by the government. “It is not just about the funds. The project is also not being monitored by the government. There are no stock-taking measures. We have taken loans to continue paying salaries to the staff. Many transgender persons who are residents of our Garima Grehs are on hormonal treatments, which means they need good dietary supplements. We are trying our best to ensure that we don’t compromise on the nutritional quality of foods we offer to our residents, but the question is, in the long run, how can we manage this without governmental support."

We May Have To Shut Down If This Continues

Reshma Prasad, Project Director of Dosatana Safar Garima Greh in Patna, Bihar, confirms that her Garima Greh has also yet to receive friends. “It’s not just mine. As far as I know, the funding has stopped for all the Garima Grehs nationwide. The trans community members who have taken shelter in our Garima Greh are also very upset. When we struggle to pay our staff salaries, we can’t force them to be patient and keep continuing their work. We may have to shut our operations if we don’t get the funds.”

Many Shelters Don’t Accept Couples 

Funding crunch, lack of infrastructure or dearth of security for the residents are not the only issues plaguing these Garima Grehs. While the focus of Garima Grehs is typically to accommodate and rehabilitate individual residents, there can be valid reasons to consider accommodating couples in these shelter homes, which is not allowed in most centres. 

“There are often limitations on the conditions in which transgender persons approach the shelter homes. For example, many of these shelters don’t take on couples even though trans people have run away from their homes as a couple. The government wants to support individuals but never wants to support couples in love. That support structure needs to be put in place. The standard modus operandi of the government has always been to hand over these shelters to the NGOs and make them run it, but why should the government shy away from doing its job and foist them onto the non-government actors? We really expect the government to act for the trans people directly and not to be intermediated through non-government agencies and least of all if they commit to the NGOs that support would be provided, at least not renege on the promise,” points Bittu. 

(With additional inputs from Pragynesh)