Manipur’s transwomen brave the dark side of Thabal Chongba

Though the third gender is widely accepted and visible in public spaces of Manipur, their harassment goes untold during the dance programmes of the Yaoshang festivities.

Published: 14th March 2017 10:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th March 2017 11:08 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

IMPHAL: The loud rhythmic beats of Manipur’s traditional Thabal Chongba dance muffle a lot of miseries, among which is the harassment faced by the third gender. "Often drunk men ask us to serve them oral pleasure during Thabal Chongba," said Naina, one of the many transwomen attending the traditional five day dance held at night during Holi or Yaoshang festivities.

"They can't pass comments at women for fear of public backlash. So they choose us," she added.

Though the third gender is widely accepted and visible in public spaces of Manipur, their harassment goes untold during the dance programmes of the Yaoshang festivities.

"It is as if they question what we are doing in Thabal Chongba. We have rights to dance too at par with others," said Biju. Generally, members of the transgender community move together holding each other's hands during the dance performances.  According to some estimates, there may be well over 40,000 transgenders in Imphal valley alone.

"Transgenders are an ugly reality of the Meitei society. Though they are accepted in public arenas and omnipresent in mass media, they often face rebuke because of what they are," said social activist Jackson Naorem.

Even harassers are very candid with their act. "An outsider can't differentiate between a woman and a transgender. We can make out easily. We just call them names and pass comments or mock them with peculiar tones for fun. It's really harmless you know. They don't retort back. I think they feel powerless..." says 24-year-old Daniel.

Police are also helpless until they receive any complaints. "Not many transgender members complain of harassment at Thabal Chongba. Nobody forces them to attend the dance festivities," a police official said.

Despite all odds, transgenders take part in Thabal Chongba dance programmes throughout the Imphal valley. "Why should someone's narrow mindedness stop me? I generally prefer to ignore the taunts and lewd offers," retorts Sunanda.

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