Santa Khurai was seventeen when she decided to start dressing like a woman. Born male, she had always believed herself to be female, and she claimed her feminine identity fiercely and openly. Her bold act of wearing dresses and make-up in public brought down upon her the wrath of her father, insults and ridicule wherever she went, and, frequently, beatings at the hands of the armed forces who are a constant presence in her native Manipur. The humiliation and physical attacks did not deter her. In her words, ‘My desire to be a woman, a beautiful, fashionable woman, was so strong that I was not afraid of challenging anything that came in the way… I felt that I could bear anything but I could not live like a man.’
The price she has had to pay is high. Knocking on doors for a job, she found that most times, no one would employ her because of the way she looked. When she eventually found success as a make-up artist, with her own beauty parlour, the stress of her struggles sent her spiralling into drug abuse and penury.
Fighting her way through these troubles, she became involved with the transgender movement, and in 2010, she was appointed Secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNA). Since then, she has worked closely with AMaNA and its sister organization, Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII). Today, she is at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement in Manipur, travelling the world to speak for her community.
Santa Khurai has known the heartbreak of an abusive marriage with a heterosexual man, and the joy of adopting a son; the highs and lows of international recognition and disownment by her own family. Through it all, she has remained true to herself, and refused to be broken. Her story is an inspiration for all humanity.