In a landmark development, the long-standing efforts of trans activist Santa Khurai has prompted the Manipur State Commission for Women (MSCW) to set up a grievance redressal cell for transgender women. The decision marks a step towards greater inclusion of transgender women in government bodies.
In February, Khurai came across a notification in a newspaper about a public hearing by MSCW chairperson Dr (Prof) Meinam Binota. “It was a workshop looking to develop gender policy and budgeting,” she said. She pointed out that the issue of gender equality is usually focused on cisgender women. She added that this is the case with the mainstream narrative around equality, that trans women like her are often left out of the conversation.
But, during this workshop held by the State Commission, Khurai participated and spoke about the challenges the transgender community faces. “The chairperson heard me and asked me to submit a draft proposal to be incorporated into the gender policy and budgeting,” she remarked.
Khurai, a member of the transgender community of Manipur said, “When I attend forums, I feel left out because the transgender representation is abysmally low.” Having experienced low self-esteem as a result of not feeling heard, she said, “When I speak about our requirements, I’m not sure that people will listen.” Often, Khurai tends to be the only voice in such forums from the North East. As a researcher, she has studied indigenous queer communities in ancient times by analysing ancient texts related to the region. She has also spoken about how before colonisation and the spread of Christianity, there was inclusion of gender plurality and multiplicity in the belief system in the region.
Khurai’s effort to support the trans community has also involved organising relief funds, including distributing rations to over 2,000 trans people in Imphal last year. She is also engaged with connecting mental health professionals with the trans community.
Long struggle pays off
With the launch of the new grievance cell, Khurai hopes that it will engage with the challenges being faced by the transgender community in the state. “Forced marriage of trans women, online transphobia and sexism...are some of the issues we hope to address,” she said.
In the past, transphobic trolling and harassment have been reported to the cybercrime cell, but they often go neglected. “You’re told that unless there is sexually explicit content, you can’t file a case,” Khurai remarked, adding that it fails to address the emotional and mental trauma of facing hate online.
Across the country, transgender people have faced violence in both online and offline spaces with limited intervention from the authorities to safeguard them. “If transwomen are included in a government body like this, then it’s us claiming our space and the grievance cell will act as a single-window,” Khurai said. Currently, the Delhi Commission for Women also has a transgender cell which was launched in 2019 to safeguard the rights of the community.
From family crises to civil crimes, the grievance cell aims to tackle a whole gamut of problems that the community currently experiences. Khurai said that they would now be able to direct these issues to the State Women Commission who can then pass it on to the Social Welfare Department or a relevant body that can intervene and create solutions.
In a press note, Dr Binota noted that the cell hopes to address the problems faced by transgender women in the state. “Earlier, they were unrecognised and their voices were unheard by society.” She underlined that trans women face more harassment in social situations and that as a trial project, MSCW opened the grievance cell to give proper recommendations, deliver justice, and protect rights in the long run.
A step in the right direction, the community is hopeful about the change it could create in their lives. Reflecting on this momentous occasion, Khurai said, “I’m very happy, it’s like a dream come true for me.”
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)