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An Interview with Manabi Bandopadhyay, India’s First Transgender College Principal

Feb 2016

An Interview with Manabi Bandopadhyay, India’s First Transgender College Principal

A (40)

I had the privilege of meeting the elegant and wonderfully articulate Professor Manabi Bandopadhyay for a few minutes. Here are some excerpts from the chat that followed:

  • What are the greatest barriers in the Indian education system for transgender people?

The barriers are not just in the education system. They have been discriminated against for so long, since their very birth, when they are left alone as orphans, that when they grow up they perceive their lives of exclusion as one of freedom and ours as that of imprisonment and confines. They do not want to return to these compartments we create. People of the third gender face this problem especially acutely. When they beg on the streets, they still have economic autonomy that they may not receive otherwise. The problem also lies in the fact that education is equated to professions nowadays. People study to earn and not to learn. They are already earning, so why should they want to come back into the system?

  • Does the Indian education system reinforce gender roles through curriculum and assignments?

Yes, to an extent. Rabindranath Tagore wanted to break these assigned duties. Anyone could become what they chose to be- an artist, a singer, a scientist- rather than what society said that they should be. We could not accept this system or utilize it to full effect. Even subjects are chosen by families based on genders. Children are channelized by these methods towards economic and social fruitfulness, rather than what they want.

  • Is the scenario changing somewhat?

If the parents are enlightened, then yes. But that happens only within certain socio-economic-cultural spheres. Not everybody has that privilege.

  • You often mention that your students inspire you a lot. Does generation gap have a lot to do with these changes?

It’s more to do with their age. They’re young and accepting. There’s that saying, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” As they grow up, I find sadly that they become hardened and more prone to stereotypes. We say, “They’ve grown old, they’ve become ‘good’”, but it only means that they’ve stopped being unbiased and started being affected by what they see and hear around them.

You are so immensely inspiring. Who inspires you?

I am a regular attendee at Belur Math, where I have taken a ‘diksha’. Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Ramkrishna Paramhansa have inspired me enormously.

  • Has Rituparno Ghosh inspired you similarly?

Rituparno was like me. The poor dear. It’s important to remember that homosexuality has had recognition, at least in the Western world, for quite a while. Transgenders haven’t, at all- their acceptance there is quite a modern phenomenon. There have been no great movements for them. I feel that Ritu’s unconscious or subconscious identification with homosexuality stemmed from that, perhaps.

  • Which country do you think is at this point the most progressive or accepting of transgender people, in their legal and social framework?

You don’t need a country to accept us. If your heart can accept us, the country will. We will keep fighting.


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