Life circumstances during 2020 never changed for the transgender in Manipur even with the enactment of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 the previous year and the draft Rules 2020 which were hurriedly tabled without consulting the various stakeholders. The fact remains that the roughshod treatment of the transgender in Manipur continues in the matter of third gender self-identity or benefits provided under the same Act and Rules. While the rules themselves are not very clear as to what exactly the benefits are and how the government intends to help, the transwomen and transmen are still not sure whether parity in fundamental rights will materialise in tangible details. Till now the transgender are up against a bottleneck in whichever area they look for assistance from the state government departments. The rights granted seem sadly on paper only as of now.
All the same, it was not on an altogether pessimistic note that the State Level Consultation Workshop on Implementation of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and Rules 2020 was initiated last Tuesday at the conference hall of the ADR Complex at Lamphelpat to discuss among the stakeholders how the Act is to be implemented in the state to prevent and mitigate problems of harassment, access and discrimination meted out to the transgender in their quest for self-identity and empowerment. A representative from key stakeholder Transgender Welfare Board, Deputy Director of the Social Welfare Department, K Saroja stated that transgender schemes are largely centrally sponsored with 75% share and unless this share goes up to 90% the funds crunch will persist in implementing any transgender schemes in the state. Like most of the representatives from government departments who were present at the workshop, she said the Act and Rules are comparatively new and a lot of information needs to be pooled from various sources to get the process on the tracks.
However, it also seems that it is very difficult to get data on the transgender as they are not always treated well or equally at home and many times prefer to stay together at a place they feel comfortable. It would be difficult to know where they live unless the transgender activists on the field told you how to reach them. This is one area the activists need to be roped in by the government stakeholders because even the certificates of identity can be issued by the district magistrate only if the applicant has been resident at least for one year. This draft rule may need further consideration as residence proof is not available in many cases where familial and social pressure keeps the transgender on the move most of the time.
As stated by Gurumayum Kavita, State Mission Manager, Monitoring and Evaluation, a total of 164 trades are available for the Self Help Groups for women in presently 27 blocks in Manipur, while there are plans to cover 70 blocks in the near future. G Kavita suggested that SHGs comprising five transgender could be included within the programmes for the women SHGs and they now want to identify transgender at the village level for this purpose. However, it occurs that since the problem of social identity is faced by the transgender it may be advisable to take more inputs from the transgender as the SHGs itself could act as restraining factor and restrict the social freedom of the transwomen and transmen. It may also not conform to the idea of third gender identity that the Supreme Court’s NALSA judgment has already granted. What could be discussed for the benefit of all concerned could be separate SHGs for the transwomen and transmen. This would go well with the interpretation of the law under question for the third gender.
To take up a positive outcome of the new laws, the legal system has done well to adapt to the latest developments and as Czadanda Sorokhaibam, Deputy Member Secretary, Manipur State Legal Services Authority (MASLSA) stated, bureaucratic interference will be viewed seriously and any denial of education compounded with mental and emotional abuse, denial of residence, and denial of entry to a public place could get punishment of up to two-year imprisonment, along with a fine in some cases. Also, under Section 12, no transgender child can be separated from the parents or immediate family. The education department is also to give inclusive education with sports and recreational activities for transgender children. Schools can also include sex education classes to prevent crimes against children under the POCSO Act. In the same way, the health department is also expected to, as a duty toward the transgender, provide sex reassignment surgery along with comprehensive insurance scheme for sex reassignment surgery or hormonal therapy, and is to review the curriculum for doctors, Czadanda stated.
A plus point that goes in favour of the state government is that it has established a Transgender Welfare Board. Commending this accomplishment, the Vice President of the Solidarity and Action Against HIV Infection in India (SAATHI) Chennai, Dr. L Ramakrishnan also called for non-invasive gender identification where physical examinations is not carried out keeping in the spirit of the medical affirmation certificate provided under the draft Rules 2020. In a short film show which Dr. Ramakrishnan shared during the programme, the transwomen and transmen, several from Manipur, voiced their aspirations for transgender status, like caregiver services, sensitisation of staff at offices and better work culture, stigma free medical facilities, the inclusion of ‘T’ in all forms, fellow human feeling and employment, leave requirements, making gender affirmation including surgery and hormonal therapy available, legislative intervention, housing, PDS, and very importantly property, inheritance, adoption and recognition of relationships.
Lairikyengbam Randhoni, also part of the SAATHI presentation, and who is Assistant Director of the SAATHI, informed that identity certification is available online now on an all India transgender portal and without a certificate it’s not possible to avail of the government schemes. However, at least a laptop and access are required for the processing work as mobile phones don’t have the same features. Jenpui, a Consultant with the SAATHI, also brought up the point regarding access, stating how the hilly areas in Manipur have very less idea of support from private organisations, government and NGOs, along with religious norms which are strict on them.
Among those who recounted varied difficulties they faced as third gender, a transman related his experience with psychiatrist Dr. RK Lenin, who was not willing to give him a gender dysphoria certificate unless the transman’s parents accompanied him. Since the transman’s parents were adamant not to sign any documents the whole episode turned out to be distasteful for the transman. Again on another occasion, when the transman accompanied his trans friend for consultation with the same psychiatrist regarding a certificate for his friend, both of them were scolded and turned away by Dr. Lenin. The certificate is available online now, the young trans man said, but added there’s still the problem of access.
Another trans student from Manipur studying in Chennai was sceptical if at all public amenities are truly available to them as he had a bad experience at the local passport office where the student had gone for a name change. The student related that she was born a female but had to dress in school as ‘something I don’t like’ and asked pertinently, “How am I going to feel comfortable?” All her fellow student friends had reached the international level but she has been left behind, she said while advocating strongly for a trans cell at the Manipur University with a trans person in chair.
A transgirl who has been in Bangalore since 2014 said they were all working normally in the initial years but after 2018 depression set in amongst them and many of the students resorted to drugs. There were no doctors or counselling available to them, but later she took one of her affected friends to NIMHANS where she started recovering after a week’s stay. After that the others also started feeling better, she said while testifying for the need for people to console and counsel in such situations.
Later Bonita Pebam of the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA) summarised that it has been five years since the Transgender Welfare Board was set up in 2016, and further after the board was reconstituted in 2019 only two meetings have been held. She said existing schemes, like in education, health and legal have been reconstituted and at least the law agencies have been sensitive. If the other departments also take the lead and come and take up issues with the transgender it would be very welcome, she said. A health, legal, educational and livelihood survey was carried out also but not many transgender came out due to harassment and bullying. She said trans children are forced to keep their hair short, and complained that at least they can be allowed to keep long hair even though they might have to wear male uniform. “The sense of belonging and self-confidence, which is vital for competing, comes down if students are not allowed to keep their personal get up,” she said. Under the MGNREGA also the transgender were designated as male employees in the documents, she said while informing that many transgender weavers left to work in Nagaland as they did not know where to apply for the government schemes. There are many avenues apart from beauty parlours but they would be getting the benefit of the programmes and jobs only if the social welfare department gives the go ahead to various schemes, she said.
The representative from the Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MSACS), Joint Director Abhiram Mongjam, mentioned that the MSACS has started its program in places like Kangpokpi and in the hills mapping can be done if transgender activists offer help. The National AIDS Control Society (NACO) program is also available up till now to only transwomen and not transmen, he mentioned. Abhiram Mongjam further informed that a transgender health desk will be set up at JNIMS Hospital to take up related issues of health and livelihood. He also said that transwomen and transmen are included in the societal roots of Manipur and can’t be ignored in the society.
The Assistant Director of the Directorate of Education (S), Leishangthem Kamala, mentioned that awareness has not been disseminated at schools due to the pandemic lockdown but the matter of self-identity and social marginalisation of transgender is expected to be included in the curriculum when it is changed in 2022-23 in accordance to the new Education Act 2020.
Among others who addressed the workshop was Santa Khurai, Secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA), who explained the objectives of the workshop and also gave a background to the various major milestones in relation to transgender rights in Manipur. President of the co-sponsors ETA, a transmen group, Hemabati was the other speaker at the workshop.
The transgender rights movement is still not in proper focus, whether it be in the Indian cities or places far from the centre stage, like Manipur. While the government does seem to be moving in the right direction, most of its efforts seem to involve only examining paperwork, with actual help to the transgender still not forthcoming. Though the laws are agreeably new, the issue is historical and an urgent cause, considering that even the Constitution has been unequal in its treatment to transgender till only some time back. The changing global perspective calls for acceptance and recognition to the sensitivity of the transgender character in India, and Manipur in this case. And as one of the third gender voices put it rightly in the film clippings, the sense of human fellowship has to be upheld in the full-fledged inclusion of the transgender in all dimensions of society and citizenry in the country, and here in Manipur too, as far as the state level workshop was meant to get the Transgender Act and Rules implemented in earnest.