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With Her Fast Unto Death, a Manipuri Transwoman’s Quest for Peace

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

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As Manipur keeps on spiralling into a vicious cycle of violence and unrest for the last ten months, with both the state and central governments failing to bring back stability, Malem Thongam, a Nupi Maanbi (transwoman) activist, took it upon herself to start a fast unto death on 27 February in Delhi, demanding peace. She had to shift thrice to continue her protest but after she was convinced by the authorities in Delhi, Thongam came back to Manipur where she continued her fast.

On 1 March she was forcibly taken away from Khurai Konsam Leikai YOS club by the Imphal police while other transwomen tried to save her.

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

Malem Thongam, a Nupi Maanbi (transwoman) activist, took it upon herself to start a fast unto death on 27 February in Delhi, demanding peace.

(Photo: Author)

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

Charges were brought against her under sections 309 and 153A alleging an attempt to suicide and promoting enmity between different communities.

(Photo: Author)

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The next day, Thongam was brought to Imphal Magistrate Court at Lamphel where she was sent to judicial custody for three days. Charges were brought against her under sections 309 and 153A alleging an attempt to suicide and promoting enmity between different communities.

She was granted bail on 4 March when the Chief Judicial Magistrate in their order stated that the state had failed to produce any material which would show that Thongam had tried to promote enmity amongst different groups, and that her demand for peace in the state in something everyone wants and nowhere has she stated any particular community’s name.

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

Thongam has had three specific demands: peace, implementation of the SoO agreement, and a comment from the prime minister.

(Photo: Author)

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

A few placards that are being used by Thongam.

(Photo: Author)

Thongam was granted bail and then was shifted to JNIMS (Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences) hospital as her health deteriorated but she continued her fast, having three specific demands:

  • Peace needs to be restored in Manipur

  • The re-establishment of proper guidelines and implementation of the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement

  • A plea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to comment on the ten-month-long violence persisting in the state, and a solution for the same

Santa Khurai, author and Nupi Maanbi activist from Manipur, in a conversation with The Quint, said that Malem has been receiving immense support from people from diverse sections of the society, and from all over the country. But as she was continuing her fast from in front of the Kangla fort, she was again picked up by the police on 6 March in an auto and later brought to the JNIMS hospital.

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It has been more than three weeks but her fast continues despite the police arresting her again under Section 505 of IPC for which she was again granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Imphal East.

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

Another photo of Thongam being picked up by the police. 

(Photo: Author)

"This peaceful act of resistance will not make things worse for others," Malem Thongnom told The Quint.

Some women sitting with Thongam in solidarity. 

(Photo: Author)

Why did she choose this path of fasting unto death as a means of protest? She told The Quint that a hunger strike is a democratic way of expressing disagreement with the state. Besides, it is also one’s personal decision and doesn't require the mobilisation of people.

"The people of Manipur have been experiencing violence and oppression in their day-to-day lives. They are tired of protesting the state and central government's neglect. The people's voices are being suppressed too. Hence, I, being a responsible individual from Manipur, decided to do a hunger strike with the belief that this peaceful act of resistance would not make things worse for others and that my protest would be a wake-up call for them to question the state."
Malem Thongam

When asked whether any politician has reached out to them, Thongam presents a dismal situation where no one has even tried to talk to them. But they also proudly say that the transgender community along with Meira Paibis (a women's pressure group) have stepped up to support her.

Thongam hopes that people across the nation come forward and show solidarity with her because what has been happening to Manipur can happen to any state in India, and reiterates that peace is vital for a country like India and political violence is a threat to its secular fabric. She also worries that since the youth, whom she calls the pillar of the nation, are vulnerable to violence, they need to be protected from being exposed to it.

(Chittajit Mitra is a freelance writer.)

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Topics:  Manipur violence 

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