Transgender women in the state achieved a significant milestone this week when the Manipur State Commission for Women opened a first of its kind in India ‘Transgender Women Grievance Redressal Cell’ at its court room at the DC Complex North Block at Lamphelpat. The cell is one more step in the direction of making fundamental rights promised under the Constitution available to the transgender under a single window service that will provide intervention to the transgender women with collaborative inputs from the state women’s commission, department of social welfare and the transgender themselves.
The transgender present at the court premises were of course feeling elated on the occasion and the formal announcement on the opening of the cell by the Director of the Social Welfare department, Ng Uttam Singh, was greeted with cheers from the small gathering of officials, transgender and the large representation from the press covering the ceremony.
Inviting the social welfare director to inaugurate the grievance cell, the Chairperson of the Manipur State Commission for Women, Prof (Dr) Meinam Binota said the cell will address the issues of only the transgender women and not transgender men because the commission is only meant for women and transgender women are eligible by that gender definition. She also stated that under the provisions of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, Section 1 and 2, it is required that the transgender take an identity certificate from the district commissioner. There is some confusion at the moment as the matter is new, but she informed that getting a certificate is the first thing to do before transgender women can approach the transgender cell at the women’s commission. Binota also said this is probably the first time in the whole of the Asian region that such a unique cell has been opened for taking up transgender women’s issues, while asking the transgender women to quickly get their identity certificates prepared.
Binota also announced that leading transgender activist, Santa Khurai has been appointed as the Coordinator of the Transgender Cell for a tenure of six months initially. Based on her activities, skill and performance the tenure would be reviewed at the end of six months, she said and at the same time informed that the women’s commission is a statutory body which does not have any permanent positions available.
Santa Khurai at the same time explained that there was previously no law judgment for them. Although the Transgender Welfare Board was formed in 2016 but there is still controversy between judgment and Act. Some small advocacy resulted in hospital OPD facilities for the transgender although it could not be called inclusion, she said, further adding that there is more clarity now and they were “going beyond the interim management and now looking for sustainability with the opening of the transgender cell”.
Issues concerning transgender women and normal women are almost identical, Santa said recalling that they had proposed starting of a grievance cell in a meeting with the commission chairperson Binota. She said the transgender are neglected many times at the police station etc, and the new transgender cell is not only about justice but also is a single window to convert matters into action. She also appreciated the commission chairperson’s initiative which she said has been affirmative in action for the transgender women.
Activist Bonita Pebam, who was the other transgender speaker at the ceremony, implored the commission chairperson to accept Aadhar card and the oath commissioner’s documents relating to gender change for registering the grievances till a time the process of getting identity certificates from the district commissioners is smoothened out. She also said there is no complaint mechanism at the police station and the police or law courts have no knowledge about the transgender. There are transgender women who are deserted by their partners after even as long as 20 years of relationship and they face mental and other problems, which activists had no power to deal with earlier, but now such cases will be addressed with the establishment of the transgender cell, she said. She also expected a better coordination, especially between the chairperson and the newly appointed coordinator, to bring about redressal for the transgender issues.
The commission chairperson, Binota on the other hand exhorted the transgender to report harassment including those by parents, and said if counselling does not work in such cases the commission would act. She also said that shelter is available for women for up to 18 months under the state government, while stating that she would recommend transgender women for accommodation at such shelters if they came with applications. It is a safe place where they can stay till matters are resolved, she said.
The social welfare director, Ng Uttam meanwhile explained that the Ministry of Women and Child Development is still to extend its approval and coordinate with the Transgender Grievance Cell since it’s a newly opened cell. It may be that they find the initiative innovative and give its approval soon, he said. He also suggested that the transgender achievers should be highlighted so that parents of transgender do not ill-treat their wards. Role models can make a sea change in the way the parents look at their transgender children, he asserted.
Ng Uttam also showed concern that many transgender are taking to drugs and when he had taken up the matter in New Delhi people in the government had shown interest and asked for more information so that rehabilitation is taken up. Also many NGOs had approached him on the matter, he said. At the same time he showed his displeasure that many NGOs look only for credit, saying that NGOs and the government departments have to go together to solve the issues pertaining to the transgender.
Bonita Pebam asked the officials present for at least two transgender representatives to be included in the Transgender Welfare Board, and also said there should be no political interference. She said grassroots workers should get representation, rather than those who just organise a few fashion shows involving transgender and get representation due to influence.
Corroborating this point, Santa Khurai rued the fact that their resources are exploited by those who can write well or more than them and such people hijack the transgender narrative. She asked to be given the resources and said the officials should keep in mind that non-transgender community NGOs etc. are only using the transgender and are misleading.
Binota towards the end of the ceremony said that the transgender are trendsetters and exhorted them to build capacity. She stated that the transgender will be treated on par with the OBCs, and told the transgender women to make their work visible. Binota said the normal women were also nowhere till some time back, but now they have their rights, like land rights and social status. Pointing out a weakness of the transgender, she said the transgender have not been able to take what is entitled as a right to them. Binota also stated that everyone is afraid of penalties and the commission would use its power to extend help to the transgender, while adding that this is the scope of strength available to the transgender now.
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