Their identity in society is largely limited to being termed “hijras” (eunuchs), they are often ridiculed for their appearance, their profession has been reduced to begging and their rights are routinely suppressed.
But Manobi Bandopadhyay, India’s first transgender principal, believes that their status can only improve when the third gender itself raises its voice and demands their rights.
“In most of the cases, they remain ignorant of their rights because of lack of education. A transgender can only be recognised when an individual raises her voice and comes into the limelight,” Manobi Bandopadhyay told reporters in a telephonic interview from West Bengal.
The Supreme Court in 2014 may have given third gender status to the transgenders, but Bandopadhyay sees little hope for their betterment.
“When the government cannot protect women, how can we expect more for our better future? We cannot expect the government to take the initiative and add rights to the community. Better status can only be achieved after we become more vocal,” the 53-year-old maintained.
Bandopadhyay is currently the Vice Chairperson of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board under the state government and executive council member of Kalyani University.
She recently released a candid biography, “A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi” (Penguin, Rs 399, pp 187), written by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey. The biography compresses her journey from being Somnath to Manobi, her struggle — from winning a war of self-identity within family and society to her becoming of India’s first transgender principal.
The writing in the book is bold, raw, barefaced and brings to fore the darker side of child sexual abuse, of which Manobi too was a victim.
“Sharing my personal life can save lives of many others. Sexual abuse of children happens a lot in India but people don’t disclose it or raise their voices; they like to keep them buried. Truth needs to be spoken and exposed,” Bandopadhyay responded on thoughts that evoked her to encourage the book.
“I showed the courage to come (out) with this and share my story with society. My purpose is to remove the evil notions that persist in the society and writing the book is my effort to do this,” she said.
She maintained that she did not have any second thoughts about her biography and that she was not worried about how it would be perceived by readers.
“Why should I hesitate to write about when I had to face sexual abuse? What I wrote may have happened to many others. I want people to be more aware and alert about sexual exploitation,” Bandopadhyay said.
“People enjoy reading about the scandals of others. My book says it all, from my childhood days to becoming principal of a college. And if people like reading about my ‘scandalous’ life then I don’t have any problem,” she added.
Though the book is a biography, she dreams of writing an autobiography in her own language, which won’t be in any chronological order and will be a collection of scattered memories.
She thinks the pages (of the biography) are soulless as her ideologies and philosophies are not a part of it.
“My feelings and emotions can be best described by me and cannot be penned by anyone else. The philosophies that I follow cannot be described through translation. There is more beyond the book, all cannot be captured in a book,” she concluded.