While the current state of India’s transgender people is still far from utopia, in Manipur, nestled in country’s northeast, they are a highly visible and widely accepted group.
On April 15, the Supreme Court passed a landmark ruling declaring that “it was the right of every human being to choose their gender,” officially recognising transgenders as members of a third gender.
It was considered a major victory for the LGBT community, also called as LGBT, considering just last year the same court upheld the constitutionality of Section 377 that crimilises homosexual sex.
For many years, the LGBT community has thrived in the small conflicted state of Manipur. Their economic prosperity has been attributed to the growth and increased acceptance of this population.
While they face undue persecution, ridicule and violence in other parts of the country, transgender people in Manipur have long been viewed as an integral part of the arts, theatre and religion.
The Maibi, a priestess of the original Meitei religion, is portrayed primarily by transgender women, in which the Maibi performs her dance as part of religious devotion.
Today, both male and female transgenders dominate the arts; from their Shakespeare-esque theatre performances, where all roles are played by men or transgender women, to the hair and makeup artists that take care of brides, models and the stars of Manipuri film and television. There is even an annual transgender beauty pageant “Trans Queen Contest” which celebrated its third year last December.
Members of the LGBT community here say that their ability to find gainful employment was a major step forward in being accepted by their families and society as a whole, in a place where many youth work in daily labour jobs or are self-employed.