New Delhi - The recent Supreme Court judgment against the legalization of same-sex marriage just proved how much our nation fears straying away from heteronormative structures. While many queers fight for marriage legalization, it is important to know that there are others from the disadvantaged community fighting for survival as well.
Santa Khurai, an artist and transgender activist from Manipur, took it upon herself to fight for her community. In August-September 2023, she raised her voice against the alleged mishandling of government funds meant for the transgender community of the state. As a result of her actions, the police were sent to her doorstep. On October 18th, the Supreme Court came to the activist's defense by cancelling the order issued by the police for her to appear at the station and stayed further arrests under the particular case. The Mooknayak spoke to the activist to know more details about her ordeal.
“Somewhere in August, I received an invitation from the Social Welfare department. It was a verbal invitation for a meeting. There, I learned that the state government had sanctioned ten lakh rupees for the welfare of the community. On the same day, an expert committee was formed, where I was the only trans woman,” Khurai said. Other members of the committee were chairpersons and heads of other departments.
The notification that was released read, “The Governor of Manipur is pleased to constitute the Expert Committee comprising the following members for conducting a survey, data collection, and other activities, including the establishment of an RCIC (Rape and Crisis Intervention Centre) model in schools, etc., with immediate effect and until further order. The report submitted by the Expert Committee will be considered and examined by the State Transgender Welfare Board for making recommendations, if any, to the State government for the purpose of treating the transgender community as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and for extending reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and in public appointments.” The notice further discussed the legality of the order, stating, “This order is issued in pursuance of the Hon'ble Supreme Court's order dated 15.04.2014 passed in W.P.(C) No. 400 of 2012 (National Legal Service Authority vs. Union of India & Ors) and also pursuant to the decision of the State Transgender Welfare Board in its meeting held on 7th July 2023.”
The committee will formulate a framework for a survey of the community. This will include the following:
Planning on personnel (manpower) for the Survey Team, budget, schedule/timeline, etc.
Methods and tools to be used.
Identification of Human Resources and capacity building.
Determination of Target Groups, sample size, sampling method, etc.
Santa soon left India for a certain period of time as the ethnic violence in Manipur started to grow. When she was abroad, the activist received a notice from the Social Welfare department for the first meeting of the committee. “I told the person I would not be able to participate because of safety concerns. The next day, a staff member sent me a resolution of the meeting where it was decided to conduct a survey of the trans people with the help of ASHA workers. There were no community members in the group of surveyors, which made me raise a lot of questions.”
Santa felt dejected because of the lack of a sympathetic response from the staff and the department. It is logical to expect people from the particular community to be involved if a survey was being done for them. “The staff was very rude to me and asked me to file a formal email to the director to hire someone else as a substitute in my position since I was not in the state. I did that, but to date, there has been no response to my email.” The trans rights activist went on to raise a very important question about the survey that was going to be conducted. When the whole state is going through violent ethnic clashes with road blockades, how are the ASHA workers supposed to travel to every nook and corner for data? Even if they are able to do so, most trans persons will not feel comfortable sharing personal details without any representative of the community. Also, the survey was supposed to be completed within 15-20 days by 20th September, putting so many lives at risk.
The funds, for now, can be kept for later, at least until the state reaches a peaceful situation. Adding to this sentiment, Santa further said, “Maybe they wanted to save money for themselves because of which they involved the ASHA workers. It felt like the department was concerned with spending the money when it was not their ‘pocket money.’ I had so many questions in my mind regarding the funds and why they did not take any other transwoman in my position even after I had specifically asked them to do so.” The activist also believed the questionnaire prepared for the survey was “shallow,” as if no trans person was involved while jotting the questions down. “Many of the community members later let me know that ASHA workers are reaching out to them asking about personal details which they are not willing to share,” she further revealed.
Angered by the whole ordeal, Santa made a few posts on social media alleging mismanagement of funds. While this scenario was taking place, Manipur police visited Santa Khurai’s house out of the blue. The group of cops, consisting of all male police officers, came inquiring about her whereabouts. Her adoptive son was present at that time in the house and was threatened by the police. “Even though he had informed the officers that I was not at home, my son was told that a summons would be delivered for me. He then went somewhere else just to avoid another scary interaction, but what the police did next was deplorable. They found out the address of my parental house and went there to deliver the summons. This whole ordeal has scared me so much because you hear a lot about police brutality toward people of my community. I started thinking about my family’s safety since anything could have happened. Luckily, I got in touch with advocate Rohin Bhat, who helped me file a petition with the Supreme Court.”
“If the police come to your house in Manipur, your life is over. That is what is thought. Due to the number of atrocities the forces make the people go through, no one wants police presence at their houses. My son is young, and he obviously got scared, given the circumstances that are going on in the state. He was not even able to clearly tell me what happened.”
Taking a purview of the matter, the Supreme Court provided a sigh of relief to the activist as it said no inquiry should be done. The apex court also shielded her by stating that no further cases should be registered against her in regard to the social media posts. The court’s judgment read, “No further case should be registered against the petitioner on the basis of posts made by her."