I was told not to knit

I’m Prem Angom from Thoubal, and I’m 41 years old. My father had high hopes from me as I was the first son among his six children. I was a good student, but left school after Class XII because we were poor and my parents were not able to pay for my education.

I have always been skilled with my hands – picking up hand embroidery and knitting from my mother and aunts from a young age. From my early teenage days, I was already earning money by knitting sweaters for others.

But my father didn’t like it; he wanted me to be more man-like. He would scold or beat me, even rudely shouting at those who came to meet me. “Is there no woman in this whole locality who’s able to knit a sweater that you are asking him to knit?” he would tell them.

Due to the frequent tensions in the house, I left my house a long time back and since then have been living in rented rooms – making a living by going to Moreh and bringing back cosmetics and other such things for sale.

Around 1997-98, I borrowed a wig from a Shumang Leela artist to wear at a thabal chongba event. It had a small tear and while fixing it, I saw how the hair was knitted together. So I started making wigs of my own without any proper training.

Today I earn as much as Rs.2500/- from each wig I make and sometimes rent it out at Rs. 200-300/- a day during festivals. One of my happiest moments was the warm welcome and respect I was given when I went to deliver a wig ordered by a woman from an affluent family in Imphal. She had lost her hair because of medical treatment. They treated me as though a doctor was visiting. I realized that this was because of my profession, and in my heart I was so happy.

As told to Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist

I was told I cannot be a nurse . . .

I am Naresh from Imphal. I am 24 years old and have completed B.Sc. (Nursing). When I applied make-up and danced in school and college functions, I had full support. But when I tried to work as a nurse, I found no place for myself as a trans woman. My first proper job, in a private hospital in Imphal, lasted just about a week. Some of the staff members and the patients were initially accepting, but one day a senior doctor scolded me in front of everyone in the ward saying, “You look like a woman, you keep your hair long, and on top of that you’ve become a nurse . . . people like you are useless!”

If he had wanted to say anything, he could have taken me aside and talked to me. I felt quite bad and just stopped going. The hospital people too didn’t call me once, even to ask for an explanation for my absence.

Later when I applied for state government recruitment, I was shortlisted as I had fulfilled all eligible criteria, but I wasn’t selected. I could hear the security persons snickering amongst themselves, “Eh, nupi saabi are also nurses?”

As it is, there are very few trans people in Manipur who are technically or professionally trained. If we can get proper jobs, then it will help our community more. Trans people have lots of health problems, but a lot of us feel shy going to the doctor or hospitals as we often face discrimination and ridicule. But in this NGO where I am presently working, trans people feel more at ease telling me about their health problems than to a male or female nurse.

As told to Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist