Meet 31-year-old Sadam Hanjabam. Hailing from Imphal, Manipur, he is the founder of Ya-All: The Youth Network, an organisation dedicated to working for the LGBTQIA+ community in the North-Eastern region in the country. Last year, the organisation raised Rs 20,00,000, helped more than 2000 people and set up a quarantine centre for transgender people. “When the lockdown was first announced, no one anticipated that it would go on for this long. We soon realised that we needed to do something for the LGBTQIA+ community as they were already dealing with many issues.
We started collecting ration for them, and once the government stepped in, we turned to mental health.” Sadam adds, “A lot of people were uncertain about what was happening and were worried about their families. Many people from the community also don’t stay at home as they don’t have safe spaces there. They were facing a lot of racism in other states. People were calling them by names like ‘Corona’, and they were losing jobs. We also decided to start a mental health helpline. In the last year, we must have attended close to a thousand calls.”
While the organisation continues to battle with Covid-19 and all of its complications, the focus has also been on creating safe, inclusive spaces for the community. “We started this in 2017 as a Whatsapp group. We did not have any support group for the queer community in the North-East, and most of the young people migrate outside the state to seek a sense of belonging. I was studying in Mumbai, and whenever I came back home, it felt like I had to go back into the closet, as no one wanted to support or listen to me. This led to me being depressed, and I started with substance abuse. I overdosed, and that’s when I realised that I need to do something about this. Ya-All started as something I needed but ended up becoming a space for everyone. We registered the organisation in 2019.”
Ya-All also works towards changing the perspective of the community in the mainstream narrative. “In the North-East, transgender people have their businesses. They run beauty parlours and make their money. However, I realised that inclusion has always been an issue. We have huge sporting events during the festival of Holi, and we realised that they were invited to entertain but never included as players. They were either considered weak or well-suited only for a certain kind of job. So we decided to break the stereotype.” Last year, the organisation managed to put together a 15-member squad of transmen, a team that is India’s first transgender football team. “Sports served as a great medium to make the community visible,” Sadam shares.
Sadam’s own overdose and struggle with sexuality is what makes him empathetic and focused on making everyone’s journey easier. “People don’t have access to proper healthcare and mental health facilities, and they are judged and discriminated against because of their sexual identity. This is why I want to do something. The community is invisible in the mainstream media. No one really wants to help us. NGOs come and ask us for numbers. ‘How many LGBTQIA+ people are there in the community?’ We never have those numbers because unless someone is willing to help that one person, how will others get the courage to come out? I am trying to bring in that change,” he logs off on a hopeful note.