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Death of a ‘comrade’ who spoke out for her community

LGBTQ+ activist Dona Marwein was vocal about society’s apathy to accept the unconventional

It was 2017. The Anjalee parking space was buzzing with people. Sitting on a wooden bench at a tea stall, Dona Marwein was speaking animatedly about the problems of the LGBTQ+ community in Shillong. Then 27, Dona was among the prolific transgender activists associated with Shamakami, a local NGO. She was strong-headed, articulate and fearless.

Dona died in Civil Hospital, Shillong, on Friday morning after prolonged illness. She was cremated because there was no space for her in the parish and the family refused to accept her body.

This reporter met Dona, who was originally from West Khasi Hills, for a story about the problems of the local LGBTQ+ community. She had said though her family accepted her sexual orientation, the society did not.

When contacted late on Friday evening, Samanda Phanwar of Shamakami sounded exhausted. “I don’t know what to say. She was such a good speaker and energetic leader,” she said.

Dona was suffering from liver ailment and was taken ill on Thursday. She was initially rushed to NEIGRIHMS. “The hospital did not admit her. So we took her to Civil Hospital,” said Phanwar.

Narrating the harrowing time that Dona’s friends and Shamakami members went through, Phanwar said initially Dona’s family refused to take the body saying the parish would not give burial land as she never went to the local church.

“Later, they said they would accept the body as they had found a plot. By then, I had already arranged for cremation and it was cancelled. After some time, I came to know that the family again refused to take the body. Finally, she was cremated at the Jhalupara crematorium,” she added.

How would have Dona reacted to this? She would have laughed at society’s insensitivity towards the community and said, “People today have a ‘sab kuchh chalta hai’ attitude.”

The transgenders whom this reporter had met had said churches here do not accept them. In some cases, families are supportive but most of them are left to survive alone.

But Dona, who was a known face in LGBTQ+ protests and during pride marches in the city, did not despise the society that rejected her. She was a rebel and cared less about it. She was publicly critical of the blighted social customs and conventions.

“She was a good speaker. She was the most educated among us. It is a big loss,” said Nelly, another member of the LGBTQ+ community who worked closely with Dona.

Photographer and transgender activist Kordor Lyngdoh Tron wrote on social media, “Rest In Peace. Rest In Power. I missed all our conversation & you are my support whenever i need; but you just left us to a place where there is no more pain & Tears…We will miss you Danielle Dia until we meet again.”

Filmmaker and activist Tarun Bhartiya remembered “Comrade Dona” in his Facebook post.

“Donna Marwein passed away this morning. A real loss to LGBTQ+ movement of Meghalaya. I first met her when she was an angry migrant worker (from West Khasi Hills) in a small eating joint in Anjalee parking lot. And then I was witness to her articulate and funny leadership of LGBTQ+ movement. Fearless and a proud Khasi/Maram she was.  She would take on any local Nationalist homophobic leader in public and dismantle their macho pretences with well worded Maram put down. Your dismantling of Mr. Shylla would remain memorable. You would be terribly missed comrade. But I am sure you would be blazing colours and humour in heaven and fighting for justice,” he wrote.

‘Comrade Dona’ was proud of her identity and was as vibrant as the rainbow colours. Her fight continues in the struggles of other members of the LGBTQ+ community in Shillong.

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