Trans participation in Manipur for Lok Sabha polls – some hits, many misses

This illustration is a combination of a photograph and text extracted from the accompanying article. The photograph shows Rohit Khumanthem from Yaishkul Manipur Legislative Assembly constituency in Imphal West district, who was among the few trans women in Manipur who could vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in their desired gender identity. In the photograph Rohit Khumanthem is standing next to a two wheeler out on a narrow street in a residential locality of Imphal city. Dressed neatly with dark glasses to ward off the bright sunlight, Rohit Khumanthem is smiling and proudly displaying her voter slip issued by the Manipur State Election Commission. The street is quite empty barring a few parked cars and a road-roller in the background (the road seems freshly laid out, with repair work continuing in the distance). The right side of the street is lined with houses, while the left side mostly has trees. Right behind Rohit Khumanthem is a closed gate made of tin and wood, a brick wall and a pile of stone chips. A bright blue sky above seems to match the confidence on Rohit Khumanthem’s face. The accompanying text says: “An area of concern was the mismatch of gender identity on the voter identity card and on other identity documents like Aadhaar. Many trans women in Manipur have had their gender identity changed to transgender on their Aadhaar card, but their voter identity card still mentions their gender identity as male. When this issue was pointed out to the Election Commission officials during the SVEEP campaign, they assured that the voter identity cards would be updated. But this eventually did not happen.” Photo credit: Bonita Pebam

VCR Diary, Happenings, May '19
Trans inclusion in the election process in Manipur needs far more thought, says Bonita Pebam

Imphal, April 18, 2019: A small number of Nupi Maanbis (common Manipuri parlance for trans women) exercised their voting rights today in the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency as part of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. There was considerable enthusiasm among community members as these individuals were able to cast their votes in their desired gender identity (that is, transgender) for the very first time.

At the same time, a number of community members were extremely critical of the fact that these individuals were among only 45 trans persons whose names made it to the final electoral rolls as trans persons, and shockingly none of the Nupa Maanbas (trans men) were included in the rolls in their desired gender identity.

The figure of 45, provided by Maibam Birendra Singh, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Manipur in an Impact TV interview, was just about three percent of the 1,343 trans persons recorded in the 2011 Census, itself contested as a gross under-estimation of the trans population in Manipur.

Quote: A number of community members were extremely critical of the fact that the names of only 45 trans persons had made it to the final electoral rolls 'as trans persons', and shockingly none of the trans men were included in the rolls in their desired gender identity. Moreover, the figure of 45, provided by Maibam Birendra Singh, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Manipur, was just about three percent of the 1,343 trans persons recorded in the 2011 Census, itself contested as a gross under-estimation of the trans population in Manipur.

Campaigns for enrolment of trans persons were conducted in October 2018 for the three main valley districts of Manipur, that is, Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal. A number of trans community groups and NGOs collaborated with the Manipur State Election Commission for carrying out the Systematic Voter Education Enrolment Participation (SVEEP) campaign at the Deputy Commissioner Complex in Imphal.

Community members pointed out serious gaps in the enrolment process. According to long time trans activist Santa Khurai in an Impact TV interview, “Once again the Election Commission missed out on the inclusion of trans men.” Additionally, many trans individuals were left out as the registration process was complicated – the requirement of residential proof apart from Aadhaar cards was something many trans women were unable to furnish. The campaign activities were conducted in a rush and in the early hours of the day when it was difficult for many people to be present.

Another area of concern was the mismatch of gender identity on the voter identity card and on other identity documents like Aadhaar. Many trans women in Manipur have had their gender identity changed to transgender on their Aadhaar card, but their voter identity card still mentions their gender identity as male. Trans community mobilizers pointed out this issue to the Election Commission officials during the SVEEP campaign. The officials assured them that the voter identity cards would be updated, but this eventually did not happen. As a result many trans women ended up casting their vote as males. As for trans men, given the complete lack of acknowledgement of their desired gender identity, they all had to vote as females.

There was some appreciation as well for the efforts of the Election Commission. Rohit Khumanthem, a trans woman from the Yaishkul Manipur Legislative Assembly constituency in Imphal West district said, “I could cast my vote without any problems inside the polling booth. The Polling Officer at the booth allowed me entry without standing in a queue.” She added that the environment was more comfortable this time as most of the polling agents were women and treated her well.

Quote: A comment from Kanta Pukhrambam, a trans woman voter from Kshetrigao Kendra, Imphal East district summed up the situation aptly: “The attitude of the polling officials was perfect, there was no teasing or harassment inside the booth.” This meant that such behaviour did occur in the past. “But there must be separate queues for trans people the next time without fail!” she emphasized.

This writer observed that the Polling Officer at the booth notified the security personnel to give Rohit Khumanthem priority “because the Election Commission of India had given instructions in this regard”. During an interaction, Leitanthem Rohen Singh, the Polling Officer, said that though a separate queue for trans people was supposed to be organized, there was too little space in the polling booth to accommodate a third queue. As a substitute, trans individuals were being allowed to enter and cast their votes without queuing up. He said that there was a strong possibility that separate queues for trans individuals would be a reality from the next Manipur Legislative Assembly elections.

In contrast, in places far off from Imphal city, the situation was not just as positive. The Imphal Free Press reported that six trans women in Kakching district (part of the Outer Manipur parliamentary constituency) came out of the polling booth without casting their vote because there was no separate queue for them. One reason behind this difference could be that the SVEEP campaign did not focus on trans inclusion beyond the Inner Manipur constituency.

A comment from Kanta Pukhrambam, a trans woman voter from Kshetrigao Kendra, Imphal East district summed up the situation aptly: “The attitude of the polling officials was perfect, there was no teasing or harassment inside the booth.” This indicated that such behaviour did occur in the past. “But there must be separate queues for trans people the next time without fail!” she added emphatically.

The Election Commission of India and their state level counterparts have their task cut out if they must ensure meaningful inclusion of trans voters – beginning with a thorough grasp of gender and sexuality diversity, on to the preparation of the electoral lists, and then right down to ensuring that the voters are able to cast their votes to their satisfaction in the polling booths, with their identity and dignity intact.

Inset: ‘VCR Diary’ – queer citizen journalism in action! Varta’s new column that brings you news and analysis on issues concerning queer and other marginalized communities in eastern and north-eastern India. Content published under this monthly column is contributed by participants in the Varta Community Reporters (VCR) Training and Citizen Journalism Programme – Multi-state Pilot (February to July 2019). The VCR programme aims to build communication, documentation and journalistic skills among youth and other groups marginalized around gender, sexuality or other social markers. In the process, it also attempts to enhance the employability of the participants. The programme includes training workshops, mentoring, and writers workshops on gender, sexuality, human rights, communication, documentation and storytelling. The current pilot is the second under the VCR programme. It covers Assam, Manipur and West Bengal states, and there are four VCRs (all queer individuals) engaged in the programme. This second pilot programme aims to facilitate queer community monitoring of sexual health, mental health and legal aid services in India, especially with regard to how queer-friendly these services are in their content and functioning. The pilot supplements a Varta Trust project focussed on an online locator on queer friendly sexual health, mental health and legal aid service providers in India (2017-19). The locator is hosted on the Varta website at www.vartagensex.org/reachout.php. The project is a three-way collaboration between Varta Trust, Kolkata; SAATHII, Chennai; and Grindr For Equality, Los Angeles, USA. The first pilot of this programme was conducted in Manipur from March to August 2018, and stories generated through the pilot were published under the ‘Manipur Diary’ column – Editor.

Visit this page for more details on the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme.

About the main photo: Rohit Khumanthem from Yaishkul Manipur Legislative Assembly constituency in Imphal West district proudly displays her voter slip – she was among the few trans women in Manipur who could vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in their desired gender identity. Photo credit: Bonita Pebam

Author Photo

Bonita Pebam

Bonita Pebam has been involved in working for the sake of queer communities in Manipur since 2008. She is based in Imphal and associated with transgender community group All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNA) and NGO SAATHII.

Comments So Far

  • Image Santa khurai   santakhurai888@gmail.com 14-05-2019 | Reply

    Well written, going though the article has proven that the writer did an indepth research, wish to read more article in the near future.

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