In a monumental step forward for the trans community, Manipur’s first Transgender Women’s Grievance Cell, under the aegis of the Manipur State Commission for Women was opened on April 9, 2021. The brainchild of prominent trans rights activist, Santa Khurai, the first-of-its-kind initiative in Manipur will play an indispensable role in protecting trans women against everyday transphobia, and will also go a long way in eradicating structural and institutionalised discrimination against them.
While Manipur has a Transgender Welfare Board instituted in 2017, it hasn’t been functional for some time now and wasn’t effective in creating actionable change and benefitting the community. Given this, during a recent public hearing held by the State Commission for Women to discuss gender policy in Manipur, Santa Khurai attended to discuss the issues concerning transgender women, especially the intersection of disadvantages that indigenous transgender women face, and the challenges that continue to plague the community.
Khurai’s participation in the hearing led to the chairperson, Dr Binota Meinam, of the State Commission of Women suggesting Khurai submit a draft proposal that recommends initiatives and changes necessary to facilitate the mainstreaming of trans rights in the state. This draft proposal, apart from the incorporation of the Transgender Women’s Grievance Cell, also suggested the launch of schemes benefitting the trans community, improved healthcare access, and the inclusion of trans narratives in educational curriculums to mainstream the experiences of the community.
This draft proposal was also introduced in the state assembly and the other recommendations in it are likely to be a reality very soon. But the Grievance Cell is the very first step in that direction, and according to Santa Khurai, an essential one. Santa Khurai will head the Cell, along with Bonita Pebam, Roro Khumanthem, and Zen Pui.
The Grievance Cell will also be instrumental in helping trans women in the state access and navigate the judicial and law enforcement systems. Legal Advisors of the Cell will help trans women navigate legal solutions and provide legal advice. This makes legal remedies and litigation accessible for trans women by making an otherwise long, expensive, and often unnavigable, process simpler and cost-free. This opens up the opportunity to pursue criminal and civil proceedings against the violence and discrimination trans persons face, which often goes unreported due to various socio-economic reasons, and also due to the pervasive and institutionalised transphobia of law enforcement and court systems.
Santa Khurai is a Manipuri indigenous Nupi Maanbi (transwoman), writer, artist, and is a prominent trans rights activist. She is also the secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association and a consultant at SAATHII, Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India. Khurai recently filed a first-of-its-kind writ before the Supreme Court against blood donation guidelines that prohibit trans persons, gay men, and sex workers from donating blood. Speaking of the need for visibility and more spaces for trans persons, Khurai said, ‘When people talk about gender equality, the issues trans persons are faced with are often left out. The community is isolated, largely due to its under-representation in mainstream dialogue. The transgender community has many stories, stories of despair, of hope. But they go unheard.’
On the subject of the invisibilisation of transwomen in feminist and women’s spaces and how this initiative can change that, she added, ‘Why don’t transwomen have a space within feminist circles and among women folk? Our bodies are a site of violence, of sexism, and that’s especially true for trans bodies. With this initiative, especially given the fact that State Commission for Women is backing it, a path towards the visibilisation and mainstreaming of trans narratives will be paved, and this will hopefully make clear that inclusion in feminist and women’s circles cannot be limited to biology.’
Manipur’s Transgender Women’s Grievance Cell will afford trans women social and legal protections that will go a long way in protecting them against the rampant transphobia that is institutionalised and structural, transphobia that leads to discrimination every single day and violence against trans persons. The incredible work of Santa Khurai and the trans community and the tireless support of Dr Binota Meinam, the chairperson of the Manipur State Commission for Women, has finally lead to the mainstreaming of trans rights.
Trans persons in India continue to be subjected to transphobia and the discrimination and violence emanating therewith, and there is very little legislation or institutional safeguards to protect them, their rights, or their lives. It’s time that changes; it’s time trans narratives are amplified; it is time our policy, institutions, and spaces are truly trans-inclusive; and this initiative is progress in that direction.
All images courtesy Santa Khurai