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The bigger problem is, that even within the queer community, there’s stigma and discrimination for people who struggle with substance abuse.

When I was studying in Mumbai, I was going through a turbulent time in my life due to a drug overdose. As I was battling a health crisis, both physical and mental, I realized there was no safe space where I could go for support. That’s when I started Ya_All, to create a support system for people in the queer community who are going through tough times. While a few organizations and groups were working for the transgender community, there was no platform catering to the needs of youth from the community and people from the larger spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. Ya_All started as a WhatsApp group in May 2017, for young people who couldn’t come out publicly. Most of the queer folks from the North East side including Manipur migrate outside the region for support. Therefore, Ya_All aims to provide a safe space to queer people of our region so no one goes through what I did because I didn’t have any support to heal.


While it’s not easy for queer people to express themselves freely or come out to the world, it gets worse when you’re living in a conflict zone such as Manipur. Internally, you’re already battling conflicts of acceptance and vulnerability and many other issues. Externally, some conflicts arise due to society and the ongoing crisis, making it more difficult to survive. We have to navigate through both internal and external conflicts, and this adds an extra layer of struggle for the LGBTQIA+ community. We’ve survived this conflict in Manipur for so long that we’re exhausted. The deadly conflict in Manipur which started in May 2023, has entered its ninth month, and the internet service was shut off for seven months. We’re living in a very dark phase. More than 200 people have died and over 50,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps across the state. The situation is very tense. Unfortunately, the biggest challenge we’re facing is that we’ve normalized violence, people getting killed, and the trauma that comes with ethnic violence.


When it comes to strife-torn regions like Manipur, which are quite diverse due to their cultural and social backgrounds, it becomes more difficult to express our identities through pride walks and events, unlike other cities. Sports being innate to us, we started a football team in March 2020 to showcase our pride with an idea to use football to create a queer moment. It’s said that pride is not just a celebration, it’s also a protest. In Manipur, though it’s difficult to stage a protest or celebrate queer representation or identity, we’ve found our connection with society through our transgender football team. Despite the Supreme Court’s order to include a third-gender category for transgenders, sports in India is binary. We want to raise awareness to bring this up to a global level so we can be more inclusive and accepting of the community. As an advocate for inclusion, we’re aiming to break stereotypes.


At present, my only ask of the queer people living in other cities and states is to at least acknowledge the challenges faced by the young queer crowd in Manipur. I want them to help in sending out a message of peace. We strongly wish that people come together in solidarity with us and help us restore peace in Manipur immediately.


Our initiatives are impacting globally. We can see acceptance in the families and the larger community for queer youth.  We’ve been featured by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Vogue and even by Prashar Bharati (Doordarshan) on the 75th Republic Day. But my biggest achievement would be the creation of a next generation of youth leaders from the community and region, who can take this movement of inclusion forward.


The initiative that started with a personal story has become a larger movement when many other young people have joined us. When you’re advocating for a social change, like what we’re trying to do through Ya_All, the process engulfs you.  I became responsible for running around, bringing in resources, and networking with people. To be honest, when it comes to my personal and professional life, it becomes tangled. It’s made me a workaholic. People around me say the same and I have also realized that I am disconnecting from my personal life. There is barely any distinction and this has come in the way of finding a partner.


If I were to talk more about my struggles to have a fulfilling relationship which has also been shown in the documentary Rainbow Rishta—I am someone who has survived two episodes of drug overdose. The bigger problem is, that even within the queer community, there’s stigma and discrimination for people who struggle with substance abuse. I was shamed, ridiculed, and excluded by people around me. The trauma has stayed with me and it became heavier with time to come out of it because I had no safe space or support then. I had no one who could understand the issues I was facing at that time. I am still haunted by all that ridicule and shame I’ve gone through and overcoming this has become the biggest challenge. I am in the healing phase where I’m going through the recovery process and this will take time. If I find a person who understands and accepts me—our wavelengths match and we complete each other—then I am happy to get into a relationship.


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