“I never identified myself as a boy. I always identified myself as a girl,” said Santa Khurai, a 30-year-old transgender activist from Imphal, Manipur. Her story is that of strength, invincible courage that helps her in fighting for the rights of her community. Her struggle dates back to the years when she was growing up. She studied in a boy’s school and alienation is the only feeling that she felt. When The Logical Indian spoke to her, about the kind of upbringing she had, she said “I had no friends, I was bullied and it was mostly due to my appearance. No one spoke to me and I was cornered.” Today, she is arguably the most famous transgender activist from the North-East and her constant efforts for her community has helped the community in gaining visibility across the country.
The journey to creating an identity for oneself was anything but a bed of roses. She has faced harassment more than once, yet remained adamant in her motto and took every hurdle in her stride. “I faced hostile behaviour from my near and dear ones, even from my father. I could sense that they were ashamed of introducing me to their colleagues. My parents did not give me money because of my identity. Whenever they gave me money I used to buy apparels which were exclusively meant for girls,” she said. She started with forming a dance troupe with six other transgenders, named Seven Sisters. This was the first step towards mobilising her community which Khurai took up.
Soon she realised she had to become financially independent. She set up the first salon run by a trans person in the state and it gave an impetus to a large number of transgenders across the state to set up their own salons and create livelihood opportunities for many. It started off in a small room, in her own house and now it is one of most famous salons, in Imphal. She got opportunities to work as a makeup artist in small-budget local productions. Santa said, “People appreciated the kind of work I did, they often appreciated my skills but no one spoke about the kind of struggle I did on a daily basis. No one spoke about our rights.”
This venture did give her financial agency but there were other aspects where several other transgenders like her needed to be heard. “The government at the state or even at the centre never gave us any opportunity. Nobody thought about our upliftment. No one speaks about the struggle we do and the harassment we have to go through, each and every day. I decided to speak up for it. Someone had to speak up, shout and scream, for the government to hear,” Santa said, her voice resonating of confidence.
With a desire to assert an identity for herself and for the community, she actively led the All Manipur NupiMaanbi Association in 2009 (AMANA), a body working towards raising awareness of the rights of the transgender community. They decided upon the name NupiMaanbi meaning “Like A Girl”. Soon after Khurai joined AMANA, they came up with the Trans Queen Contest North East, using fashion and beauty as mediums to bring together the transgender community across the seven sister states in the North-east.
Santa has helped in mobilising her community to a large extent. Discussing legal rights of her community with the centre and the state and prevention of ‘hijacking’ the efforts of the trans community is what she has actively done for a couple of years now. She is currently working as a consultant with the Sathi Project, another NGO based out of Imphal. Now her goal lies in scaling AMANA at a larger base and mobilising more from her community to speak up for their rights.
“People talk about the problems faced by transgender across mainland India but how often do we talk about transgender rights, incidents revolving around transgenders, hate crimes that take place in context to transgenders from the North-east? Why is North-east treated as if it is not a part of India?,” Santa asks. Corruption and casteism have a negative impact on the trans community as well and there is a huge impact of racism in this particular sphere. “We don’t follow the eunuch culture and we don’t have gharanas. Members of our community can live in their own homes, have meals with their own family members. In that sense, we from the North-East are slightly more independent than the members of our community across the country, but there is a huge lack of recognition in rights,” the secretary of AMANA, Santa said.
“People label workshops or seminars or programmes as national level ones, but there is hardly any representation from the North-east. We need more representation. That is precisely what I am aiming at. I am aiming at bringing a change in this mindset and ensuring that our communities from the North-East must make a mark on the pan-Indian space. North-East is mostly left out and is missing, be it in the overall political scenario or when it pertains to LGBTQ rights and activism,” she said.
Khurai hopes that the society will understand someday and someday India will acknowledge and accumulate the North-East within the radar of their diverse culture. The Logical Indian community salutes her spirit and the kind of work which she has been doing for her community till date. We hope that the government bears a more inclusive attitude towards the transgender communities from the North-East and a dialogue is initiated to include them in the mainstream of the discourse. Her tireless efforts and persistence are an inspiration to all of us. We wish her all the best for her future endeavours.