Nupi Manbi: Manipur’s Transgender Community’s Current Struggle for Acceptance Amid the Pandemic


Nupi Manbi, a transgender community from Manipur, has managed to carve out a place for itself in the conservative society of Imphal. While some have achieved minimal social acceptability, many still fight for their basic human rights, and many are forced to live away from the public eye. The COVID-19 pandemic has now added to the plight of this already marginalized community of Manipur, writes ANAND SINGHA.


THE The transgender community has always had a substantial presence in world history, particularly in Hindu mythology and other religious texts. Nupi Manbi, which literally means “looks like a girl” in Meiteilon, is a community of indigenous trans women in Manipur. Over the years, the community has struggled to find a place in Imphal.

Santa Khurai, trans rights activist and poet from Khurai, Manipur, is considered by many to be a hero. As an indigenous Nupi Manbi herself, Khurai has been actively engaged in improving the lives of disadvantaged trans men and women. During the pandemic, she attended to relief efforts, procuring and distributing rations to members of the LGBTQ + community.

Khurai said The booklet, “The trans community has been the most affected by the pandemic. Nupi Manbis has worked in Manipur for ages, especially in the beauty industry. Some work in fabric design shops and many work in beauty salons. But things have changed since the confinement. As a person with a reach, I try to do my part to get them out of this misery. “

Khurai is one of the best known trans women in Manipur. She created one of the city’s first trans women-owned beauty salons. The salon gave her the financial freedom to live her life on her terms.

She, however, had a rough start in life. She reveals, “When I was a teenager and at a very impressionable age, a group of men cornered me in a dark alley a few blocks from my house. They forced me to say “I am a boy and I have a cock” and started beating me with bamboo sticks. I couldn’t sleep properly for over a week due to the physical pain. But more than the physical pain, it was the mental trauma. I decided that day that my body might break down but not my cause.

Khurai recently chose to marry her longtime partner Riyaz against her family’s wishes. This led to her being disowned by her family.

Read also : Political reforms to make the LGBTQ + community more proud by Pride month next year

Fight against the pandemic of the Nupi Manbi community

But many trans people, unlike Khurai, are not financially stable and are economically dependent on their families. The pandemic has also disproportionately affected their community, due to their already poor socio-economic conditions.

In mainland India, most trans women end up begging for money at weddings and other cultural events, forcing them to interact with people. Now, due to lockdowns and social distancing in place, their main source of income has been cut off.

In Manipur, culturally, the Nupi Manbis have had recognition in movies and the arts. Many trans women have appeared at Meiteilon Leela (Manipuri Theater) and have become household names.

However, most Nupi Manbis are prohibited from obtaining formal education, preventing them from qualifying for employment in the formal sector.

Nevertheless, in Manipur, their community has created a hub in Khurai and Imphal. These cities are booming with beauty salons run by these trans women.

Ebomcha Lei, a trans woman from Imphal, had to leave her life in Assam because of the pandemic. The lockdown had caused him to lose his job due to the downsizing of his workplace following the lockdown.

Upon arriving home, Ebomcha did not receive a warm feedback. She says: “I thought that coming back to Manipur would give me relief, but the difficulties are just beginning. When I got home, my neighbors started harassing me and my family. They told me to go somewhere else, because I bring the crown with me. I feel broken because my family is going through a lot of trauma because of me. If only I were a normal woman, they wouldn’t dare say a word.

“I was separated from my friends and the people who accepted me while I was working in Assam. I don’t have a job anymore, and because I’m a trans woman, no one would hire me. They giggle and laugh. It’s hard to make ends meet.

More vulnerable to COVID, but unable to access vaccination

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), a US-based nonprofit, trans people are five times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population.

Due to the weakened immune system caused by HIV, many community members are at greater risk of death from COVID-19.

“Trans adults are also more likely to rate their health as poor or fair compared to others. More than one in five transgender adults suffers from at least one or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis or asthma, ”according to the NCTE.

Ebomcha Lei

Many members of the LGBTQ + community do not even show up for the vaccine due to the stigma attached to them. Bobby Leishram, a trans man from Churachandpur, Manipur, and member of the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA) said The booklet, “When I went for my first jab, people were laughing at me, which made me really uncomfortable. Some do not even show up at the drive to avoid this public gaze. Standing in line for hours sometimes and constantly squeezing through the unwanted gaze is nerve-racking. “

The fact that most of these people do not even have a basic identity card, bank account and health insurance makes it unlikely that they will receive state assistance.

Read also : Rs 1,500 paid as living allowance to 6,440 transgender people during lockdown: Minister of Social Justice in LS

Historical context:

During colonial rule, the British government passed the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, targeting many castes in colonial India. This was, among other things, an attempt to regulate the conduct of the trans community in the country.

The law created a category of “eunuchs” and regarded them as an inherently criminal tribe. He also mandated the registration and monitoring of this community. The law was repealed after independence.

NALSA v. Indian union

In 2014, the Supreme Court delivered a remarkable judgment in the case of National Legal Services Authority v Union of India & Ors. (AIR 2014 SC 1863) marking a benchmark for transgender people over 4.88 lakh in India. The Supreme Court declared transgender people as the ‘third gender’ and gave them all the right to identify as a man, a woman or the third gender, granted legal recognition to their gender identity and issued a host of directives to union and state governments to take action to actively protect their rights under Part III of the Indian Constitution.

Following the ruling, Parliament enacted the Transgender People (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 to ensure the protection of transgender people’s rights and well-being. On September 25 of last year, the Union government notified the 2020 rules on transgender people (protection of rights). The rules include, among other things, procedures for trans people to apply for the identity certificate and the sex change of their identity document. documents.

Read also : The Center calls on states to take all required actions under the 2019 Transgender Act; tells them to form a cell for the protection of transgender people

Mental trauma

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the mental trauma present within the trans community. Many people have lost their jobs and are forced to leave their homes because they cannot pay their rent.

Many pockets have emerged within Imphal, where more than ten Nupi Manbis are confined in one room. They were ostracized by society, which left them alienated and depressed.

Psychologist Dr Dipika Jain from Assam explains: “People in these communities are constantly exposed to feelings of worthlessness, leading to many anxiety disorders and almost an existential crisis. Much of their life is spent overcoming abuse and coming to terms with their identity. Lack of acceptance can sometimes even lead to suicidal feelings. Discrimination was already there long before the pandemic even started, but with the covid crisis the problem has escalated to an extreme. “

Even with the aid announced by the union and state governments for the disadvantaged in distress, the transgender community will likely never benefit. It is very difficult to estimate the number of trans women and men residing in a given state.

Several of them still do not have an identity card certifying their gender, and many are not covered by the public distribution system. These marginalized communities are excluded from major relief programs and are further pushed into destitution.

The only way to support them is through local NGOs and local community organizations who work tirelessly for their upliftment. But their resources are also drying up.

Gender identity is an integral part of our identity, which everyone wants to express. Being deprived of basic human rights under the pretext of gender identity is the hallmark of an unjust society.

(Anand Singha is a student at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune, and an intern at The Leaflet.)


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