[By Siddharth Haobijam]
Bishesh Glam, located in a busy corner in Keishamphat in Imphal West, Manipur is just about two years old.
The salon run by Bishesh Huirem, a well known male-to-female transgender, however, has changed the lives of many Nupi Maanbis (one who looks like a woman).
Nupi Maanbis or the transgenders of Manipur forms a unique group in this hilly state. Like the transgenders in the rest of the country, they have faced discrimination of various kinds in the state.
Laifungbam Roy, president, Centre for Organisation Research &Education (CORE) , which has been working with the LGBTs, in the state since the 1990‟s, says the root cause for the discrimination against the “otherly gendered” is patriarchy.
“Perpetrators of this form of discrimination range from close family members, acquaintances and government agencies and their personnel. This is mainly due to ingrained patriarchal values,”
Huirem, 24, who also enacts the female parts in “Shumang Leelas” (the traditional courtyard theatre of Manipur), says her family was dead set against her transitioning in the beginning.
“In the beginning, my love for girly things often resulted in a beating from my strict father. Sometimes I would be locked up inside my room to be “straightened” out. My brother would often punish me for being too “effeminate,”
Life, took a turn for the better after she went for her higher education outside the state in 2006. Huirem, a graduate from Garden City College, Bangalore in Fashion & Apparel Design believes education is the key to a better life.
The experience of running “Touch and Glow”, a beauty salon, near her campus with another fellow Transgender from the state, Robert Naorem, came in handy in while setting up her own establishment, Bishesh Glam, in 2011.
She says she was lucky to have her elder sister’s backing who provided her with Rs.3 lakhs to open her business, but most of her kind are less fortunate as they are often doubly discriminated on account of their gender and education.
Most of them (her employees) come from the poorer strata of the society. Most of them are school drop-outs.
“So, when I opened my business, I gave them fares (around Rs 50) everyday so that they can come and train under me to become beauticians or hairdressers.Now they can at least support themselves financially,”
says the five times winner of Miss Transgender Manipur.
The salon, which on an average see 15-20 footfalls a day, earn some Rs 20,000 a month. However, business peaks up during the wedding season as they are in huge demand and are generally booked for three or more sessions a day. A bridal makeup artist usually charges Rs15,000 per session, out of which half of the amount goes to the proprietor of the salon.
Thoibi, 18, a young intern at Bishesh Glam describes the salon as a lifeline.
The teenager who prefers to go by the name “Thoibi” named after the legendary Moirang princess was born as “Salman Khan” to an impoverished “Meitei Pangal” family (indigenous Muslim) of Manipur.
“She (Huirem) has been like a mother and sister to me. If not for her I could not even imagine where I would have been. She took me in. I was estranged from my parents due to my gender identity crisis,”
In fact the beauty industry in Imphal are driven by the Trans women. More than half of the state capital’s salons are run by them. Apart, from giving them a viable means of employment it also confers upon them some sort of social acceptance.
Kenand Brahmacharymayum, (18), an employee of the Salon says working in beauty related field give them twin benefits.
“We are more comfortable in this (fashion) field. We can also explore our feminine side too,”
Huirem, who also plans to launch a proper fashion school in the near future, says as of 9 September she has now extended her expertise and training module to include “normal” females apart from Trans women.
The Former Miss Transgender Manipur who idolizes Mother Theresa says that though she and her kind have faced discriminations on account of their gender, but “Bishesh Institute of Fashion and Beauty” will take in everybody sans discrimination.
“Anybody can join my school. Gender no bar,”