Meet India’s first transgender college principal
By Amrita Mukherjee
I had met Somnath Bandopadhyay in 2001 when he was a professor in Bengali in Jhargram College in West Bengal. With first-class degrees in his kitty his oratory skills were impressive. But that did not save him from the taunts that he had to deal with day in and day out for wearing women’s clothing, kohl, keeping his curly hair long and expressing a desire to acquire the body of a woman because that is what he felt inside.
The last time I spoke to him he was undergoing hormone therapy to prepare for a sex change operation. “I feel I am a woman trapped in the body of a man. I want to conquer my body. As such people keep saying I am effeminate so I think I will be much better off if I become a woman,” he had told me.
Somnath underwent a successful sex change operation worth Rs 5 lakhs in 2003. He changed his name to Manabi Bandopadhyay.
In a life marred by constant struggle to find social acceptance it was only recently that Manabi tasted victory. She has been appointed to the post of principal of Krishnanagar Women’s College in West Bengal, making her the first transgender human being in India to be given such an important post.
For someone who was constantly judged by her sexuality and rarely by her acumen, Manabi always said that it was her students who gave her hope because of the popularity and acceptance she enjoyed among them.
While living in the teachers’ quarters in Jhargram College she was beaten up by colleagues and asked to vacate the quarters. She had approached the Human Rights Commission then who had served the college a show cause notice.
The college also tried to fire her saying they had hired a man and not a woman, Manabi challenged that in court and won the case.
Although Manabi has been campaigning for the LGBT community in India and her book Endless Bondage written on the plight of the eunuchs in India, became a bestseller her personal struggle for finding acceptance continued.
While her own parents wanted her to have a heterosexual existence her marriage to a man was never accepted by his family. The rented apartment where she lived with her husband was under attack one night by goons hired by the landlord since he didn’t want her on his premises. Soon her marriage collapsed. Now she has adopted her favorite student, who has taken the name Debashish Manabiputra (Manabitra means son of Manabi).
Supreme Court ruling
In 2014 in a landmark ruling the Supreme Court of India recognized transgender people as the third gender and said: “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender.” This granted rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.
Earlier Manabi had missed pay hikes and promotions because of her gender issue but when she applied for the post of principal in Krishnanagar Women’s College she said she had hope because of the Supreme Court Ruling.
Manabi Bandopadhyay, who was working as an associate professor in Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalya, said that she applied for the post of principal not to prove a point but she wanted to work in a college that would be near her home in Naihati where her 92-year-old father lives and she has to look after him.
The struggle has been long for Manabi but her appointment to the post of principal shows a distinct shift in the mindset of Indian society. Manabi in a newspaper interview said: “I am in a tizzy because of the media attention, my phone has not stopped ringing since the announcement but my priority will always be my students.”
Officials of the education ministry have also accepted the decision with open arms. In an interview to the Times of India Rattan Lal Hangloo, vice-chancellor of the Kalyani University to which Krishnagar Women’s College is affiliated, said, “Manabi is a fine human being, a good academician and an able administrator. We are hopeful her appointment will empower other members of the transgender community.”
On May 26, Manabi visited the college where she would start working as the principal and students and teachers were waiting to meet her.
Becoming principal of the college is the culmination of Manabi’s two-decade-long struggle to find acceptance in Indian society and is sure to inspire the two-million-strong transgender community in India.
Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist who writes on social issues in India with focus on women. She divides her time between Dubai and India and blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com
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