In India Transgender Beggars Now Accept Digital Payments.

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At a traffic signal in the Indian capital, Ayesha Sharma, a 29-year-old trans woman dressed in a traditional tunic and pants with scarf, holds up a smartphone with a QR code on it as the light turns to red and vehicles have to stop. A commuter leans out of a car window, scans the code and her account is credited with 10 rupees ($0.12), an easy addition to her panhandling.

The rise in digital transactions and instant payment interfaces like the one used by Sharma, are helping marginalised communities like transgender people in managing their finances.

A beggar on New Delhi’s streets since 2006, Sharma has routinely faced prejudice and jeers. Since she has started asking for money using her smartphone, just the wonder factor of that has helped reduce some of that commentary that in the past tried to shame her, she said.

It has also encouraged people to give her money even when they do not have small change and today, about a quarter of her earnings are through the digital mode, she said.

“It is so much easier now. Even though people are not always carrying cash, they can still donate to us by just scanning this code,” Sharma told Al Jazeera.

“We may be beggars, but we should still be treated with respect and decency,” she said and digital transactions have so far spared them from visiting banks where they frequently encounter prejudice and discrimination.

The Indian government has been trying in the past few years to boost digital transactions over cash, including through policy measures like the so-called demonetisation in November 2016 that wiped out overnight nearly 90 percent of the cash in circulation, and led to an immediate spike in the use of payment apps.

The pandemic, too, helped push digital transactions and some of those habits have continued and co-exist with the use of cash which is back to being the preferred mode of payment in the country.

Digital transactions work in a couple of ways.

There are apps that link to a person’s bank account and money is immediately withdrawn directly from the account when a payment is made.

Then there are payment apps from companies that link to an account a user has created with the company, or can be linked to a wallet that the company offers, which the user loads to use like a pre-paid card.

Leeza Khan, a 30-year-old transgender woman and beggar from the northern city of Meerut, gets at least 20 percent of her daily earnings through digital transactions.

A graduate of class 10, Khan was abandoned by her family when she disclosed her new identity. Since then she has been begging on Delhi’s streets, in buses, and even at weddings to make ends meet.

However, even though digital payments have helped transgender beggars, it is not a perfect solution.

At least some transgender people have struggled to open regular bank accounts or update their gender identity on existing accounts, even though India’s central bank issued a directive as far back as 2015 that banks should recognise the third gender.

Khan, for instance, doesn’t have a regular bank account as she does not possess a PAN card, a vital financial document issued by the Indian income tax department containing a 10-digit alphanumeric number that is used for banking and tax-related activities or an Aadhar card, a unique 12-digit identity number, both of which can be used open an account at any bank in India.

Khan can get a PAN or Aadhar card after she has registered as a third gender at a local government agency. She has tried once or twice, but she abandoned the process because too many people were asking her intrusive questions.

For now, payment apps have given Sharma and other transgender beggars a chance to more effectively raise money.

Digital banking is an important tool that helps keep transgender and other minorities safe and secure because they frequently live in precarious and uncertain situations, said one social worker. “It has become essential for their wellbeing to have a mechanism in place to keep and manage their money … [But] the challenging part is having a bank account and meeting the qualification criteria for the service.”

Source: Al Jazeera.
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