Meet Santa Khurai, the first transsexual of Manipur

IMPHAL,7th Sep: Though the world has developed to the extent of something which none had dreamt of, yet we are still living in a society where the transgender community is being neglected, bullied and cursed. This community is being looked down and treated as if they don’t exist at all. However, there are few of them (transgender community) who fought all odds and barriers and proved that before being a transgender they are a human being just like all of us. Among them is our very own Santa Khurai who is the first transsexual in Manipur.

In a tête-à-tête with The People’s Chronicle, Santa Khurai, literally opens up about her past and speaks about her own journey as a transwoman (Nupi Maanbi) who sets out to find her own path and finally becomes the ‘woman’ she had longed for ever since she began to understand herself.

Santa Khurai, arguably Manipur’s most famous transgender activist, is a transgender model, writer and artiste, all rolled into one. She is the first transsexual of Manipur. As of now, Santa is the only one who has undergone complete transformation from male to female through Hormone Replacement Therapy and Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS).

A transsexual is a person who physically transition from male to female or vice versa. Transsexual people experience a gender identity that is inconsistent with or not culturally associated with their assigned sex. They desire to permanently transition to the gender with which they identify, usually seeking medical assistance like hormone replacement therapy and other sex reassignment therapies to help them align their body with their identified sex or gender. He or she might take hormones to suppress the characteristics of the biological gender or promote the characteristics of the desired gender. In this way, transsexuals can control, to some extent, traits like facial hair and breast development.

Some transsexuals no longer refer to themselves as such after they have finished their transition. They call themselves either man or woman, just as in the case of Santa Khurai who prefers to be called as a ‘woman’.

“I always had a sense of who I am and I never identified myself as a boy but as a girl always,” informed Santa Khurai. Her parents were always against her claimed gender identity and would do anything to bring her back to her original form and even send her to Don Bosco School which is an all-boys educational institution.

“As I was into my puberty period, I hated myself for my boyish look. While my girlfriends were all growing up to womanhood, I was all man and this was the reason I hate to look at the mirror,” Santa recalled while adding “the idea of transforming myself into a female crept up while I was in class VII. I was inspired by Caroline Cossey, the transgender Bond girl who starred in the famous James Bond movies ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’. At one point of time I even thought of leaving the state and moving to the US to do the transitioning.”

As she recalled her earlier days when she had to dealt with severity, ruthlessness and what she calls ‘mental torture’ by the society and even by her parents, Santa Khurai said “I was called out of my house one night by a group of unknown men, disguised as friends of my friends, who later claimed to be underground activists. They took me to a deserted place where I was brutally beaten up with all my nails smashed into pieces by a brick. They told me that my open transwoman identity was harming the society and that I was a burden not only to my parents but to the whole Meetei society. They made me lie on the ground flat and forced me to shout loudly that I was a boy and not a girl.”

She also recalled of another incident where she was urinated upon during a Lai Haraoba festival. “It was in the mid 80’s during the Chingjoibi Lai Haraoba at Khurai where some boys came up to me and dragged me outside of the festival area and pissed on my legs.”

“I never used to report any unwanted incidents happening to me to my parents because even if I complain about such incidence, they (parents) instead of supporting me and taking up actions against the perpetrators would scold me for being what I am,” Santa exclaimed while adding that “Sometimes I feel that I am not a member of the family.”

Putting everything behind, Shanta managed to drag herself up despite the challenges and obstacles she faced both from her family and the society. She began to earn along with a co-transgender namely Tom Sharma. Along with her she set up the “Seven Sisters”, a dance team comprising transwomen. Later in 2010, she was introduced to human rights activism by Babloo Loitongbam and presented LGBT at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, 2010 at North East Hill University. From here she began associating with All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA) and took active roles in highlighting LGBT issues.

Her idea for total sex transformation initially became a reality after she was elected as the member of North East Steering Committee of South Asia Human Rights Association in Gender and Sexual Minorities (SAHRA) in 2013. The organisation is based in Bangkok and as she had to often travel to Bangkok, she got the opportunity to undergo hormone replacement therapy from 2014 onwards. She did a minor surgery (injection in the scrotum) at Protunam Polyclinic, Bangkok in 2015.

However it was only in August 2018, that she managed to undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery at Mahatma Gandhi Medical College & Research Institute, Pondicherry from the funds raised through an online public campaign by one Prof Karen D Konyak of the Melbourne University, Australia in 2017 and from funds collected from transmen outside the state and straight allies. The whole surgery cost around 4 lakh rupees.

Santa Khurai is now happily married to Riyaj Uddin Khan, a Muslim from Assam and is living a decent life. They are happy with each other and plans to adopt a child in the very near future.

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