INTERVIEW-India's first transgender college principal overcomes taunts and abuse

by Sujoy Dhar | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 6 June 2015 03:00 GMT

Many of India's male-to-female transgenders are forced to work as sex workers or beg on the streets

By Sujoy Dhar

KOLKATA, June 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's first transgender college principal says her struggle to be recognised as a "third gender" was not easy in the largely conservative country and urged the government to provide jobs for sexual minorities who often face discrimination and abuse.

Manabi Bandyopadhyay, 50, hit the headlines last month when the professor of philosophy and Bengali was appointed principal at Krishnagar Women's College in the eastern state of West Bengal.

But Bandyopadhyay, who underwent a sex change operation in 2003 to become a woman, says her two-decade long journey to the top of academia was fraught with jibes and harassment and called on authorities to do more to support transgenders.

"In schools, colleges, all my life I was ridiculed for my effeminate ways," said Bandyopadhyay, who was born under the male name of Somnath and brought up in a village in Nadia district.

Due to their lack of access to jobs and education, many of India's male-to-female transgenders - also known as "hijras" - are forced to work as sex workers or beg on the streets.

"Many of the transgenders are on the streets begging in the absence of a job. The Supreme Court of India has ruled in our favour and the government should think about their employment," Bandyopadhyay told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In April last year, India's Supreme Court recognised transgender as a legal third gender in a landmark ruling and ordered the government to ensure their equal treatment.

The court ruling recognised the community as a marginalised group and directed authorities to implement policies to improve their socio-economic status.

This means all identity documents, including birth certificates, passports and driving licenses must recognise the third gender and the government must allocate a certain number of public sector jobs, seats in schools and colleges to third gender applicants, say lawyers.

But while the judgment was been welcomed by campaigners, it is not being implemented across the country. Activists say the ruling is contradicted by the court's reinstatement of a gay sex ban that does not recognise their right to sexual relationships.

Bandyopadhyay said she suffered emotional and physical abuse from her family and peers when she was a college student and was even suspended by college authorities due to her refusal to behave as a heterosexual.

"My father was never happy with my femininity and he always taunted me. But I never gave up," she said. "It has been a long struggle for me and I overcame it somehow."

(Reporting by Sujoy Dhar. Editing by Nita Bhalla. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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