Our bodies are intrinsically linked to our identities from our birth. The Obstetricians' ringing cry of “It’s a girl!” or “It's a boy!” immediately subjects the newborn to a list of cultural and societal gender stereotypes that invariably shapes the child’s likes and dislike their behaviors, what they become in future. In most cases, there is little scope for the child to actively pursue their interests, even in adulthood, free of the stereotypes deeply embedded within themselves; to unlearn what their families and societies have collectively taught them to think about themselves. In a cishet-male dominated society (primarily patriarchal) all identities tend to be subverted explicitly or implicitly, the foremost being that of a transperson. As unfortunate as it is, it comes off as no surprise that trans people are not treated at par with their cis counterparts lacking opportunities, support, even basic human rights that are meant to be extended to them by the virtue of them being humans.
Central to this argument of subverting trans people and their interests again brings us to the question of their identity, one marred with constant questioning and mockery. The societal prejudices created about trans people automatically sets them behind their cis counterparts in terms of education, vocational training, and job opportunities leaving them to either beg or take to prostitution as a means to sustain themselves. Ironically the profession they are forced to take only aggravates existing prejudices amplifying their identities as people who do not ‘fit in’.
For our first edition, we are privileged to have with us, as our cover story, the tale of the enigmatic Dr Manobi Bandopadhyay. The struggles she has faced on all fronts physically, mentally, and emotionally yet refusing to bend to the odds life has put before her and remaining optimistic in her outlook is both commendable and inspiring.
Dr. Bandopadhyay at India’s First Transgender Poetry Meet. Picture/Vice
To simply state that Dr Manobi Bandopadhyay has had a difficult journey undermines the extremities of hardships she has had to face both within her family and out of it in her journey of self-discovery. Her tell-all biography ‘A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi’ as penned by journalist Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey, stands testimony of her immense grit determination and belief in herself to transcend from a misfit to becoming India’s first transgender principal. Born Somnath Bandopadhay, Manobi’s childhood has been marked with extraordinary difficulties as she grappled with her identity. Her surroundings did not make it easy either when she was raped by her cousin in the fifth grade and physically assaulted by her school mates. She was sure about becoming a woman rather than living as a homosexual. She started her hormone treatment in 1999 and finally underwent sex-change surgery in 2003, a particularly testing period for her. She eventually moved out of her hometown to study Bengali Literature at Jadavpur University. She flourished in the company of her intellectual equals. Theatre, dance, and writing provided her with an outlet from her otherwise dredging environment.
After her first stint as a lecturer in Jhargram and enrolling herself into a PhD programme, Manobi started Abomanob (Subhuman)- India’s first transgender magazine which was meant to bridge the existing societal gaps created by heteronormative prejudices and engage its readers to initiate a conversation encompassing a wide spectrum of topics including health, hygiene, castration, and stigmas. In her own words, Dr Bandopadhyay states, “Till then, hijras belonged to a community that clapped and begged at traffic signals or extorted money when newborns were brought from the hospital. The fact that there could be a whole magazine dedicated to their cause so they could fight for their rights was unthinkable”.
Dr. Bandopadhyay at TEDxIIFTDelhi
Dr Bandopadhyay’s transition to womanhood has been the first step in her tumultuous journey of self-discovery. She was an unfortunate recipient of abuse at the hands of her extended family and fellow schoolmates from an early age with little respite from her own family, who never really accepted her as she is. Dr Bandopadhyay feels that although she is physically a female after her sex reassignment surgery, she continues to face hardships because of the third position tag associated to her. Many people continue to associate their (trans people) identity and profession only to that of the Hijra community. Unless the people of the country are not enlightened enough the development of trans people is impossible. She doesn't want her country and society to be engulfed in the darkness of ignorance and strives to do something every day for their collective liberation.
To deal with such apathy in personal sphere combined with societal prejudices, for her to come out to Kolkata to study in one of the most prestigious institutions in the country to establish herself as an academic and competent professional is beyond simple hard work. It is her blood, sweat, tears and immense faith in her capability that has helped her see and reach out to her goal.
Dr Bandopadhyay's acquisition of a PhD and her subsequent induction as the Principal of the Krishnagar Women’s College making her the first transgender Principal in India is a testimony of how merit transcends any prejudicial border that society creates for oneself.
Today her identity has moved beyond that of a trans person to a competent educator who serves as an inspiration not only to her community but any individual grappling with difficulties at any level. Dr Bandopadhyay has become a living example of how one is in charge of their destiny, whatever the hurdles are thrown at them maybe.
Advisor Gender Equality Program and Head of Outreach at C.R.R.S.S
Project Head - Unspoken