Imphal/New Delhi- The ongoing Manipur violence has left tribal communities in the lurch. Families have been displaced and separated, with many spending their nights in relief camps. As rehabilitation work continues in the state, it won’t take one much time to observe their discriminatory views towards the transgender community. Violence and conflict affect the queer community differently and their needs are not the same as heterosexual people.
The Mooknayak reached out to a relief worker from Meitei relief camp who would want to remain anonymous. Talking about abuse of transpeople, the worker went on to state “We have heard rumours of violence happening with them, but there is no evidence or a firsthand experience.” There is no proof of such cases being investigated. Such experiences can be easily brushed under the carpet as there would be no other space for them to go to.”
He went on to add, “There has been no specific help in regard to the queer community, but we are trying to figure out our way. Meitei Society works with the queer community, so we have plans but none have been implemented yet. We are still assessing the community’s need to see if we have the available resources.” It is interesting to note that people have been in the relief camps for more than 5 months, but no specific step have been taken for the community so far.
The relief worker then went on to add about the “logistical difficulty” in providing help as people need to identify themselves as a part of the community. Only 4 transpersons have been identified in relief camps of Bishnupur district and 2 in Imphal. This also leads us to question the current scenario which feels unsafe for transpeople to come out. Violence would force them to be on their survival instincts and only being able meet with the bodily demands to keep themselves alive, forcing to find themselves deeper into the closet.
Talking about the need for special measures in such camps for the queer community, he said “There has been no specific relief support for the trans community from the government’s side. The state has only provided us basic aid like ration and few medicines, but the specificity of help is left to the hands of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers.”
Santa Khurai, a trans rights activist from Manipur opened up to The Mooknayak regarding the struggles faced by her community at such camps. Since identifying as a transgender person is natural for people irrespective of the place they come from, so many trans people present in the camps are the ones who are from remote places. Knowledge about Hormone Replacement Therapy is rare so access to such help might not be a primary need for some. But that does not mean such help should not be accessible. Trans people have medical needs that should be met by the agencies taking care of them.
Khurai said, “Transgender bodies require a lot of privacy.” This need cannot be met at a relief camp where people stay with their family. Lack of a private space might force a trans person to disclose their identity. “Non-congruent” body parts have a chance to be exposed, owing to routine medical checkup, leading to harassment and violence. This might even lead to body dysphoria. “Before I left the state, a lot of trans persons called me asking if I could help provide them shelter. They wanted to choose a shelter over a relief camp because it would have provided them more autonomy over their bodies..” Ignoring private spaces is not new in the state. In 2020, Manipur had become the first state to provide separate quarantine centres for transgender people during the 1st wave of Covid-19 but it was later shut. During the second wave, when Santa Khurai proposed to the health secretary about reopening of such facilities, her request was denied.
Brutality by armed forces is unfortunately one of the most common violence the community goes through. A study by the National Institute of Epidemiology among 60,000 transgenders across 17 states of India was done in 2016. Thilakavathi Subramanian, corresponding author in the study concluded, "Many community members said that they had faced discrimination, physical and sexual abuse from law-enforcing authorities in majority of the states where the study was conducted.” The researcher further observed that 60% of the transgender population had experiences some form of harassment and violence. If that is the case in day-to-day life, imagine the scenario when the structure of law and order has broken down, such as the current situation of Manipur.
For many transgender people, employment is more difficult as compared to their cisgender counterparts. There were many Meitei people who identified as trans and had opened their own boutique to design and sell the traditional Meitei wedding gowns but because of the violence, they had to leave the shops and run away. The Manipuri activist observed, “Many transgender people were engaging in this work, and this was the only way through which they earned a livelihood. When the violence hit, they left the shops. No one could even carry the raw materials. The expensive pieces, materials burned down along with the boutique. The people do not know from where to restart.”
Shanta Khurai opened up about her own experience with violence as well. From brutality, being banned from cultural places to death threats, the activist has faced it all. “Visibility of Transgenders is there but the trans politics is very vague. “Stakeholders are okay with us until we are invisible to them. The moment we stand up to ask for our rights, it becomes a problem. As along as we live like a binary gender and support our families financially, we do not have the right to survive,” Khurai said. She added, “Manipur had a history of gender plurality, but we have no space in the current politics.”