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Sadam Hanjabam, the Manipur-based queer NGO founder who defeated substance abuse, propelled change

Ya_All, a registered queer and youth-led organisation, is working towards empowering the queer community, fosters inclusivity through meaningful dialogue and engages youth using social media.

Ya_All, lgbtq ngo in india, india queer ngo, Sadam Hanjabam, Sadam Hanjabam ya all, Sadam Hanjabam lgbtq, indian expressSadam Hanjabam formed Ya_All to provide a source of comfort and support that he once needed.

Manipur’s Sadam Hanjabam’s story is a testament to the phrase, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’. Struggling to come to terms with his queer identity as a teen in Manipur, Hanjabam turned to substance abuse in 2013-14. Years later, in 2022, he runs Ya_All, a youth-led organisation, to help the LGBTQIA+ community. This is his story.

“Growing up in Manipur we saw a lot of crisis and conflict mostly due to militarisation and because of acts like AFSPA. We were scared to go outside, afraid of harassment and fake encounters,” Hanjabam told indianexpress.com. “Living in constant fear passed on the trauma from one generation to another…and the only option to explore ourselves was to move out of Manipur,” the 32-year-old from Imphal said. This, coupled with the stigmatisation of being queer and living with mental health issues led him to explore ways to escape reality — in Mumbai, as an MPhil student in 2013, he started using drugs.

From sleeping in the library to sleeping on the couch of a friend, he struggled to ‘fit in the colourful queer scene’. He said, “The prolonged use of substances led to addiction and overdosing, almost cost me my life twice in 2017. The last hospitalisation was very serious,” he said.

However, it was the circle of shame, the worry about police interrogation, and ignorance of doctors that scarred him the most. After he was flown back to his hometown and moved to a facility for rehabilitation, he realised the faults in the system. “They were treating me as a patient who needs to ‘get out’ of addiction, but nobody was willing to link my condition to my inability to express myself as queer,” he explained. “Even after telling them about the issues I was facing, they only kept on prescribing medicine after medicine,” he said.

It was then that he realised that even though he had been privileged in a lot of ways, he too “was silenced”. “I wanted to recover and also wanted to make the system more inclusive and affirmative,” he says, explaining he wanted to advocate for a safe space and a “support system for my people, which I never got”. It all started as a secret WhatsApp group in 2017.

“Our organisation, Ya_All started off as a WhatsApp group back in 2017, to support the region’s LGBTQIA+ community. Increased stigmatisation and violence inspired us to change into a more visible support group, finally becoming a registered youth network in 2019,” he said.

“Whatsapp helped us connect privately with more individuals from the community to seek help as it is used by everyone and can operate even on low internet bandwidth,” he said.

Now, moving forward, the NGO has six groups on the platform where participants discuss their life experiences in a safe environment and provide support to each other while sharing their passion for sports.

Based in Manipur, Hanjabam’s NGO first created waves by forming an all-transgender football team in 2020. Since then, he went on to feature on Apple TV+ show The Me You Can’t See, produced and hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry. “Personally, for me, it gave me more strength after I came out openly on an international platform and
it has helped us to bring our issues to the mainstream,” he says.

Their group has over 200 participants not just in Manipur but in other states as well. “Ya_All (Yawol), translates to revolution in Meiteilon/Manipuri. Today, we can proudly say that we started a revolution through WhatsApp.” Now, with over.

“We have support groups for mental health support, young people living with HIV, LGBTIQ+ community and the Transgender Football Team,” he said.

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While there are no strict rules for seek help, they “do not randomly add people” to these groups. “We first do a round of calls and meet them personally through community gatherings. We ensure that all the communication stays within the group,” Hanjabam said.

The groups found their additional purpose when the pandemic hit. “During those testing times, these groups were our best form of communication to share critical information, coordinate for resources and deliver help to the ones in need,” he added.

From distribution of food supplies, hygiene kits to even cash support to sustain a livelihood, the NGO took to crowdfunding to meet expenses. “We supported more than 8000 families for two years through a unique and diversified way of support through these resources,” he said, thanks to overwhelming support from the public. “It was nice to see our efforts also acknowledged by the United Nations Envoy on Youth,” he gushed.

Along with all works related to advocacy, a big part of Ya_All is working towards inclusivity in sports. Now, beyond the football team, they have been hosting an annual Queer Games events. The fifth edition of the game was held in June this year.

“Sports are still very binary in India, like in any other country. However, the acknowledgement of transgender as another category of gender, in general, is a very welcome step,” he said. “Every policy change will take time, but somehow we have to keep advocating for change.”

First published on: 22-07-2022 at 02:41:57 pm
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