The recent Supreme Court ruling recognising the transgenders as third sex did not create ripples in Manipur where their population is considerable. There are some loose organisations of such third sex and they did not react at all.
After talking to some of the transgenders in Manipur who have carved their niches in the fields of art, culture and other socio-economic activities The Hindu understands that this legal recognition came rather late in Manipur. Shumang Khumhei, the open air theatre, has been an integral part of the Manipuri society since time immemorial. This highly entertaining, educative form of mass amusement, reported from the days of the kings, has been the only means of recreation to the people. Effeminate young boys have been on great demand for the role of women characters in these forms of entertainments.
They look like girls and tourists cannot simply believe that they are boys. There have been fashion shows, beauty contests, all transgender dance competitions and traditional folk dances all these years. Because of their contribution to Shumang Kumheis, religious functions and other forms of arts, the transgenders are the respected lot in the society. There is no gainsaying the fact that they are at much higher notches than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. People do not mock or look down at them as social nuisances.
After the ban of the Hindi films in the state, Manipuri video films were produced in quick succession. Surprisingly, there was no scope for the transgenders in these video films notwithstanding the fact that for generations they have been ruling the roost in the entertainment world playing the role of the girls and women in the Shumang Kumheis. Interested persons created an imaginary wall to keep them out. One angry transgender told The Hindu that an unwritten law was made known among the film circles that the transgenders could not act in the video films. However, few producers and directors have started bringing out video films with the transgenders playing lead roles.
There are numerous beauty parlours in the state which are exclusively manned by these transgenders. Beauty-conscious housewives and girls make a beeline every. A cursory survey shows that most of the establishments have business round the year. Some of them have great demand in other parts of the country. They had opened beauty parlours as far as Kerala. The number of beauty parlours run by transgenders from Manipur is impressive in cities like Delhi and Kolkata.
There are also hotels exclusively run by these transgenders at Moreh, the border town. Every year on the festive occasion of the festival of colour, there is a folk dance which is basically a form of worship for the Manipuris.
An interesting feature is that almost all of these transgenders who are respected by all sections of people lead normal lives.