Holi is one of the most important festivals, celebrated with great pomp and show, in India. However, the north-eastern state of Manipur celebrates it with a twist. Popularly known as 'Yaoshang festival'— a five-day-long celebration accompanied by a host of sporting events.
"The festivities were always binary—I have witnessed the sports and games being held for the men and women but one would never find transgender persons, who have been constitutionally identified as the third gender, participating in such activities. Thinking about the other members of the LGBTQ community was a far fetched dream. This portrayed a lack of inclusion in spirit and in reality," Sadam Hanjabam, the founder of Ya-All, an NGO that works to empower the queer community in the state, told The Logical Indian.
In 2018, Sadam decided to do something about the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community, and within a span of two years, he along with his team, organised a separate sporting event during these celebrations to break the stereotype and eliminate the discrimination.
"It was a notion that the LGBTQ members whether the queer or transgender persons were equipped in soft skills but were not meant for physically strenuous activities. But such people were never offered a space to showcase their skills due to their sexual orientation. This has been a one-of-its-kind step towards a progressive change.
Last year, a football team comprising of transgender persons was formally introduced. Around 15 transmen participated and played the match. It was a hit! This year, it was the fourth edition which took place from March 26-27 and as many as 20 transmen were a part of it," explained Sadam.
Several events such as track and field, basketball, and badminton were also organised but football was the organisation's pick to show solidarity. He said that sharing changing rooms and being part of a team where you feel like an outsider, the trans athletes have to go through horrifying experiences which affect their mental health and well being.
The extreme adversities in his personal life encouraged Sadam to establish an organisation that would unite and empower the community. He wanted to ensure that the community members living in the remotest areas of northeastern states were heard and seen.
"I have been through difficult times for my sexuality—for being gay. Usually, in the absence of acceptance and for the fear of the stigma, we are forced to move to the big cities for studies and employment opportunities. Also, the visibility and conversation on coming out of the closet are comparatively more in such places but how long can one stay away from their home?"
Sadam had moved to Mumbai and was involved in substance abuse. After overcoming life-threatening situations, he returned to his home state and was undergoing counselling. He shared that the moment doctors would get to know about his sexual orientation, they would start behaving differently.
"Their actions got me thinking. Even a privileged person like me could not avail of medical services, how would the less-advantaged members of the community be treated? I decided to focus on strengthening the support system for the ones like me. Ya-All was started as a Whatsapp group which expanded to become a full-fledged youth-driven and youth-led organisation for the LGBTQ community in the state," Saddam said.
He further added that the team was using sports as a medium to connect with the mainstream movements to bring visibility which will lead to a positive change.