Manipuri Trans-Community, Led By Malem Thongam, Demand For Peace!

One such activist is Malem Thongam, who has been on a hunger strike since the 21st of February. Her aim is simple, the freedom from armed aggression and state impunity for the people of Manipur. The ongoing communal strife and the Indian state’s silence and negligence around it, has reinforced thousands of youths to take up arms (setting aside the pen).

Every year, the 31st of March is commemorated as International Transgender Day of Visibility. It is a day to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans people, while also drawing attention to the poverty, discrimination, and violence that the community faces. The day is an attempt to visibilize the trans experience that has been systemically erased for far too long.

Globally, the key contributions of trans-people to the creation of our modern society have been met with thankless apathy. In India, from the dawn of time, trans-people have been at the forefront of every revolution. Just a couple of years ago we saw them take prominent positions to lead the conversation during the CAA protests and today they are doing the same in Manipur.

Malem Thongam has been on a hunger strike since February 21, 2024.

One such activist is Malem Thongam, who has been on a hunger strike since the 21st of February. Her aim is simple, the freedom from armed aggression and state impunity for the people of Manipur. The ongoing communal strife and the Indian state’s silence and negligence around it, has reinforced thousands of youths to take up arms (setting aside the pen). The fact that the political leaders have made the people of Manipur succumb to this harsh reality with fear and the wide availability of arms in public spaces, is a threat to the future of Manipur.  To learn more about the story we spoke to the Secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association and author of The Yellow Sparrow, Santa Khurai.

Also read: Book Review: The Yellow Sparrow by Santa Khurai, Translated from Manipuri by Rubani Yumkhaibam

The state of Manipur and the communal riots that have taken the lives of many, has been a topic of conversation for almost a year now. However, reports about the issue and in particular, the misinformation being spread about it, is another challenge that the people of Manipur are facing. When asked about the reality of the situation in Manipur at the moment, Khurai shared how she and a lot of other people are dependent on the internet to make a livelihood for themselves. Be it independent journalists or other activities, everyone needs the internet to varying degrees. She even talked about how she had to flee to Bangkok to continue her work.

The reality of the last 10 months in Manipur have been hidden from the world by internet bans and misinformation campaigns sponsored by the government. What we do know is that the communal riots in the state have led to a large number of people being displaced. For their safety they are moving to spaces where there are ethnic majorities similar to their own. This displacement is challenging for everyone involved, however when the identity of ethnic minority coincides with the identity of transness, this experience becomes even more challenging.

“As trans people are displaced from their communities they are at a higher risk of being unsafe”, shared Khurai while speaking with Gaysi. She threw light upon how various members of the trans community reached out to her in need of a safe space The camps or midway homes where some members of the ethnic minorities are forced to live in only have spaces for cis-men and cis-women. They do not make accommodations for trans-persons and when they do, they are met with discrimination. Khurai also opened up about her own financial situation and how even though she wants to help them she is not in a position to be able to afford to house every single person in need.

The biggest issue becomes finding work. In the capital city of Imphal, there is still some opportunity for trans people to make a livelihood for themselves. But, when forced to move to smaller cities and villages they are unable to find any work and are being forced into challenging financial situations. The language barrier becomes another hindrance that most displaced trans folx seem to be struggling with, for those who moved to big cities of mainland India.

Also read: A Victory in Manipur Against a Callous Government

The last 10 months in Manipur have been nothing less than an attack on the fundamental rights of Indian citizens. In Khurai’s own words: ”Our right to life has been taken away from us.” But mainstream media and social media does not seem to be talking about this at all. To bring more awareness about the issues in Manipur, to get mainstream media to notice the struggles of the people of Manipur and to assure peace in Manipur, Malem Thongam started her hunger strike.

The strike first began in Delhi with the aim of getting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take notice of his struggling constituents. “She just wants him to come down and see the state that we are in”, said Khurai. Malem has now been on a hunger strike for over a month. What started in Delhi has since moved to Imphal. This is where Santa Khurai and the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (collective of trans-women) along with the Nupa Maanba members of All Manipur Trans Men Association (ATMA) joined her.

They have been by Thongam’s side throughout her hunger strike and provided as much assistance as they can. They even stood by her side as she was arrested by the Imphal police. The charges that first arose against her were attempted suicide and promoting enmity between groups. The charges had no basis to them and the latter was dropped, but the first still remains. This is despite Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, decriminalizing behaviors of suicidality, i.e., the ‘attempt to suicide’. However, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code continues to remain in place, which states that it is a criminal offence that will attract a fine or imprisonment of upto 1 year. Santa Khurai told Gaysi about how when Malem was arrested, the police took her to a hospital and forcefully attempted to give her IV fluids in an attempt to break her fast, but it was Malem’s determination to fight the good fight that she continued to resist.

Also read: #TDOV:Why the Trans Protection Act Hits Home and Hits Hard

Malem’s protest still continues and her aims remain the same. Peace for Manipur and Prime Minister Modi to come to the state to actually see the struggles of his constituents. For Khurai, she knows that most of the world turns their back on trans people. She said, ”If a cis woman was protesting, everyone would be talking about it.” This is true as it can be clearly seen in how the #MeToo campaign took off because Savarna cis-women made well-publicized crusades that the media amplified. Ironically, Sonam Wangchuk, has recently ended his 21-day fast in Ladakh, and his daily social media posts garnered much attention as well. His advocacy has been critiqued as being inspired by sectarian regional parochialism, with little heed paid to the political realities of the region. Khurai acknowledges that most of the world doesn’t care about the efforts of trans folx in Manipur, but what hurts more is that the rest of the Indian queer community also doesn’t seem to care. She hopes that through this piece we can shed some light on the work that trans people of Manipur are doing in their attempt to bring justice to their state and their people, and that more people will join the good fight!

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Yashaswiny Dinkar is like fire. She is a psychologist, writer and a Koda enthusiast. (Koda = pet dog = soulmate). Her laugh, energy and enthusiasm are infectious. The high decibels of her voice are comparable only to her affection and consideration. It is evident in the way she educates people about feminism, pushes for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and spreads awareness about mental health. If someone tries to hurt people she cares about, her fire can burn them to ashes. She is driven to achieve her goal of becoming a published author and does not let any opportunity pass by. But she does not push other people down in the process but instead illuminates the path for them. Yashaswiny Dinkar is a happy bonfire, a soft candle flame, a protective flamethrower and a guiding torch. Yashaswiny Dinkar is fire.

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