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An Interview with Manabi Bandopadhyay: What do I do with my Sexuality?

Feb 2017

An Interview with Manabi Bandopadhyay: What do I do with my Sexuality?

Manabi Bandopadhyay is the first transgender college Principal in India, currently working in Krishnanagar Women’s College in the Nadia district. This blogger had the privilege of meeting her at the 4th Kolkata Literature Festival, 2017 and this is what she had to convey.

  • Recently, a transgender person was refused treatment at a Kolkata hospital for this fixation with heteronormative beliefs. Do you think sexual diversities studies should be made mandatory in India?

If you ask me to talk about it, a transgender person was refused because this confusion with the he/she binary. For us, who rebel through NGOs, our line of protests did not stem from this. If the government refuses one of us, I can call up a journalist. I do not accept the term “queer” because its translation in Bengali is extremely offensive, which leads me to believe that the hospital officials were innocent. Those who protest are polished, they do not argue on the lines of a genre of literature, they come from lower middle class backgrounds who do not suffer. There are several authors such as Sunil Ganguly who wrote under a pseudonym, not to hide their sexuality but of fear of failure.

  • In the light of what you said, do you think familiarisation with concepts of sexuality through education and exposure at literary festivals is possible, so much so that it can end discrimination?

Discrimination, through times immemorial, has existed and will exist. Those who protest diversity, forget that when all five fingers assume the same size, we lose the capability to grasp something. Diversity exists for the sake of competition, where someone always comes second. Despite this, you can climb the social ladder. Nature stands on the difference between species. The fact that the heterosexual community forms the majority and possess the powers of reproduction, they are better accepted. The institution of marriage expels all those who are ‘different.’

  • The theatrical rendition of Manab Chakraborty’s Santap talks about the twisted manifestations of love amidst the transgender community. How far do you think the role of the playwright or author is important in purging the audience/reader’s mindset of these issues?

Social awareness is not constricted to Kolkata only. I have acquired the light because I dared to. Otherwise, I could’ve been one of the ‘dholak players’ in remote Murshidabad, unable to look beyond the walls of the well. I also detest the term ‘community’, what is it really? Lakshmi and I are different within the same sphere of societal constructs but we eat the same food and wear the same clothes. There are gurus and panchayats even within the “hijrah” community- the Pradhan, the Nan. However, I did not want to be a part of it, and today I am the Principal of a College. Being in a mainstream society has never led me to believe that their profession is inferior to mine, they are more honest.

  • Your achievements and your position have extracted very different responses. Can you please tell us how you have received them?

I have noticed how, after becoming what I did, my own kind has been angered. They believe I am their enemy. I did what I could for myself and if they are repelled by the fact that I do not beat drums for a living, then so be it! If a prostitute today decides to break free, educate herself and work somewhere other than a brothel, her co-workers would not let her. Kadambari Bandopadhyay was failed seven times at the medical entrance exam. Subarnalata is a novel which reinstates the fact that women can bring another woman down, too. Ekalavya wanted to break caste barriers too and he was punished for his ambition. Despite this, those with perseverance have always been successful in fighting back. I do think highly of myself. From a very young age, I refused to believe the lie everyone around me repeated- that I am designated a particular job based solely on my sexuality, not my merit.

  • Do you have a message for those marginalised who, like you, dare to be different?

An anti-establishment question, I see! The power to vote rests in the hands of the marginalised. Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Aranyak harps on this. Sagina Mahato, Mahakaler Rather Ghora talk about the Naxal Movement being fuelled by the Adivaasis. Even in the “Hijrah” community, there are sects: the “Nirban” and the “Akua”. The Supreme Court has issued an order that whoever calls him/herself a transgender is one; it does not work like that. I have gone through a sex reassignment surgery and I ought to be a transwoman, although people call me otherwise. Acceptance is a dubious term. Let no one fall prey to such terminologies.

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