A new found respect for transgenders in India
Sonu Nigam recently launched the ‘6-Pack Band’. The news could have gone unnoticed or received scant publicity in the normal run as just one more event at Bollywood or an inauguration by a well-known figure. It received the attention it deserved and maybe more than that. The 6 members of the band were all transgenders.
Singing original songs that included Pharell Williams’ single “Happy”, they created Indian history by becoming the country’s first Transgender Band.
The media picked it up and automatically the public gaze shifted to a coverage of the community of transgenders in India, who had in recent times, despite the odds, proven to the country that they were very much a part of the mainstream and given more favourable circumstances could prove their worth like any other citizen.
1. Manabi Bandopadhyay – first transgender principal of India
Born as Somnath, the youngest son of a family in Naihati, 24 Parganas district in West Bengal, he became Manabi Bandhopadhyay in 2003 after a sex change operation. Bandyopadhyay was always academically inclined. She previously taught at the Vivekananda Satobarshikhi Mahavidyalaya at Jhargram for nearly 20 years. The operation took place while she was still serving there but life did not stop there. She kept up the pace in the following years, to become one among the few people in this community who are challenging stereotypes about them.
9th June 2015 was a red letter day for her. Appointed Principal of Krishnanagar Women’s college, 110 Km from the capital Kolkata, she took over an institution that was 1800 students strong, that had not seen a Principal till then in three years and where good administration was needed, an ill-equipped library hoped for improvement, new appointments had become a necessity.
A warm welcome by the Staff and students who saw hope in her and ready co-operation being available, she has been able to make a good beginning and continue her good work in academics and improving the lot.
2. Padmini Prakash - first transgender television anchor of India
August 15th on India’s 68th Independence Day, Padmini Prakash first appeared on the Tamil language Lotus TV based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Since then she is the regular news presenter at 7.00 P.M. daily. Given a boost by the court ruling that transgenders could be recognized as a legal third gender, she has become the first transgender television news anchor of India.
A troubled home life till age 13, disowned by family she left home. Almost on the verge of taking her own life, she was saved by well-meaning people. She travelled to many places from then on. She enrolled for post graduate education but dropped out after two years due to financial woes. Not despairing, she learnt Bharata Natyam, won a few beauty contests and even did a television serial.
Meanwhile Fate lent a kind hand. Programme executives Sangeeth Kumar and Saravana Ramakumar of Lotus TV chanced upon some transgenders being harassed with bad treatment and then it struck them that something should be done to improve society’s views on them. Their proposal for a transgender news presenter to create a positive air about the community to help it become part of the mainstream, found favour with the Chairman of Lotus TV GK Selva Kumar. Rose, the first transgender to host a talk show on TV suggested Padmini’s name. She was aware of news broadcasting and given two months voice modulation training. Her life was made.
She has been welcomed very nicely by social activists in Coimbatore, got the positive approval of the public for her appearances and become a recognized face since then. A lovely compliment that came her way from a housewife was "Honestly, I could not find any difference between her and any other woman anchor on other television channels". Another said “Her performance is really nice. She not only looks like a woman but her voice modulation, her pronunciation and her overall presentation is very good”. Isn’t that nice?
3. Kamla Jaan – first transgender mayor of India
Way back in 1999 much before the Supreme Court ruling granting them recognition as third gender, Kamla Jaan, a eunuch, won the Katni, Madhya Pradesh elections, declaring herself as a woman. She actually became the world’s first eunuch Mayor. Accepting the verdict humbly she took it in her stride to get down to business and in two and half years, running the city with an iron hand she had sunk wells, fixed drains and renovated the bus station.
During the 1999 elections, the government had reserved the post of mayor for women. However Alka Jain, an advocate who lost the election, had challenged Kamla Jaan's gender. In her petition she said that Kamla alias Kamla Jaan was a eunuch and therefore was not born a girl. She also said Kamla had first registered herself in the electoral rolls as a male but had later changed the status of her gender. In 2003, the High Court upheld that Kamla Jaan was not a "woman" and hence she was asked to step down from the post of mayor, reserved for a female candidate.
But despite this setback she had already carved her name in the annals of political history by her victory and in the hearts of people of Katni, who recognized her worth.
4. Shabnam Mausi – first transgender MLA of India
Shabnam "Mausi" Bano became the first transgender Indian or Hijra to be elected to public office. She was an elected member of the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998 to 2003.
She had studied only for two years in primary school, yet spoke 12 languages that she acquired fluency in during her travels. While in office, her prime goals were to fight corruption, unemployment, poverty and hunger in the constituency she won from. Going by her example many from her community have been inspired to try and participate in mainstream activities in India, giving up the age-old professions of dancing, prostitution, begging and other activities like dancing for good luck at weddings.
5. Kalki Subramaniam – first transgender entrepreneur of India
Activist, author, actor, holding two Masters, one in Journalism and Mass Communication, another in International Relations, now Entrepreneur. These are the impressive credentials of the first transgender entrepreneur of India, Kalki Subramaniam.
Life at school and in college was not easy, but she was made of sterner stuff and made her come out stronger and more determined to fight her way across. She fiercely campaigned and still campaigns for social, political, and economic equity and rights of transgender and intersex people. She is the founder of Sahodari Foundation which works for the social, economic and political empowerment of transgender persons in India.
Her achievements since entering public life are laud worthy and enviable.
- She has lectured and been heard in numerous prestigious institutions like IIT Madras, Jindal Global Law School, National Judicial Academy advocating nationally against discrimination and hatred against transgender people and intersex people and voices for their inclusion at all levels.
- She is working on two books, one in English, the other in Tamil. Her collection of poetry ‘Kuri Aruthean’ was published recently.
- In 2009 she had received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Lioness Group of Chennai in appreciation of her transgender rights advocacy work.
- Other awards have followed but she is widely appreciated as one of the major campaigners behind the Indian Supreme Court's verdict legalizing transgender identity in India.
- Narthaki, an iff beat film has her as heroine with a plot about the life journey of a transsexual woman in a quest for happiness, love and finding her true identity and happiness. Automatically she became the first transsexual actor in India to have done a lead role in a major motion picture.
- Kalki was invited by the then Chief Justice of India, Shri.Altamas Kabir to Rashtrapathi Bhavan to participate in his swearing in ceremony in 2012.
- A recent personal score is that on March 8th 2015 Facebook chose her as one of the 12 inspiring women of the world who use ‘Facebook as a community development platform for empowerment’.
Truly a phenomenon!
6. Laxmi – first transgender rights activist of India
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi better known as Laxmi, is a transgender rights activist. She is also a Hindi film actress and a good Bharatanatyam dancer in Mumbai, India.
Born in 1979 in Thane, Laxmi, a hijra, is the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008. At the assembly, she had spoken of the plight of sexual minorities. "People should be more humane. They should respect us as human beings and consider our rights as transgenders," she said.
Born in a Brahmin family in Thane, Maharashtra, she graduated with an arts degree from Mithibhai College, Mumbai and obtained a post graduation degree in Bharatanatyam.
She has starred in several Ken Ghosh dance videos and then became a choreographer herself. Laxmi chanced to become a bar dancer but the short time euphoria ended when R. R. Patil as home minister ordered the closure of dance bars in Maharashtra. She along with others appealed against it but they lost the case. That was her first foray into rights activism.
Laxmi has served on the boards of several NGOs which conduct LGBT activist work. In 2002 she became president of the NGO DAI Welfare Society, the first registered and working organization for eunuchs in South Asia. In 2007 she started her own organization, Astitiva. This organization works to promote the welfare of sexual minorities, their support and development.
Today Laxmi gives interviews, otherwise represents the LGBT community in popular media. She has starred in several TV shows, been a participant in the Indian television show Bigg Boss (season 5), starred in Sach ka samna with Rajeev Khandelval, been in 10 Ka Dum with Salman Khan and Raaz Pichle Janam ka.
Laxmi has been in an award winning documentary in 2005 - Between the Lines: India's Third Gender, Laxmi has also featured in Project Bolo, a documentary series about LGBT Indians that has been released on DVD. In 2011 she appeared in Queens! Destiny of Dance, an award-winning Bollywood movie about hijras, that got excellent reviews.
These are the trailblazers, the path creators who have showed others in their two million strong Indian transgender community, that if there is a will there are a hundred ways. Some lack the will to strike out and better their life, others see it as a futile exercise in attempting rebellion leaving it to fate to decide the course of their life. But there could be a whole lot of them waiting at the border of that line that demarcates the world of the generally accepted sexes from that of the approximately two million transgenders in the country.
India's Supreme Court has recognised transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling in April 2014. "It is the right of every human being to choose their gender," it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.
Good news from Wings Travels and Humsafar Trust
Heartening news for the community and a change in the attitude of the mainstream is noted in India’s first radio taxi service for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, Wings Rainbow, that was flagged off on Wednesday. This initiative by Wings Travels and Humsafar Trust will have taxis chauffeured by LGBT community members, and is expected to start functioning in 2017. On Wednesday, five volunteers from The Humsafar Trust, an LGBT rights organisation, signed up to drive radio cabs.
Under this programme, initially five members of the gay and transgender community will apply for a learner’s licence, and complete their training in getting the All India Driver’s Licence.
During the nine to 12 months it takes to get the permanent driving licences, they will also undergo customer etiquette training. Wings Travels currently operates approximately 5,500 radio taxis in nine cities including Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, and Chandigarh.
After the initial five complete successfully, you can expect a lot many more to follow suit and strengthen the initiative.
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All that transgender people now ask is understanding and empathy from the vast majority of Indians, and that the Supreme Court ruling be observed in letter and spirit that they could redeem their self-respect and live like any decent human being deserves – an opportunity in education and the right to earn a living.