by Aritra Singha
March 28, 2017 | Kolkata
The word “transgender” – or Trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to us at birth. Although the word “transgender” and our modern definition of it only came into use in the late 20th century, people who would fit under this definition have existed in every culture throughout recorded history.
Despite the increased visibility of transgender celebrities like actress Laverne Cox or writer Janet Mock, many people from all over the world still don’t personally know anyone who is transgender – but the number who does is growing rapidly.
The transgender too are treading in the oldest profession of sex trade as a hoard of them covers a sizeable portion in different red-light areas including Songachi , the largest red-light area of Kolkata which were the bastions of the women sex workers.
Photo : Chaitali Chakraborty
"We mainly started our work with female sex workers. But now we are seeing transgender too are treading in the domain. This increases the risk of spreading HIV as they are yet to come with us. But we managed to convince several of them" said Bharati Dey, secretary of Durbar, an umbrella NGO of welfare of sex workers.
Meanwhile the state government had also constituted a commission for the transgender headed by Manabi Banerjee, principal of a college in Nadia. "Transgender are still mocked and jeered at. We have crossed a long way and have to go more. Several welfare schemes for the transgender have been planned," said Manabi.
However Manabi stressed that society is gradually becoming sensitive to this issue. "Sever order o high court and apex court helped us to get a place. Now transgender are distinguished as a different sex in all government services,' added Manabi.
Another major problem faced by the transgender is that of health. In April last year, India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as the "third gender" in a judgment that also observed that this community faces "large and pronounced discrimination" in healthcare. Among other respondents of the study is a young transgender woman, Anushri Banerjee (name changed), told that as a 22-year old, she was gang-raped by three men.
She said that after asking her many embarrassing questions, doctors at a public hospital in Kolkata refused to treat her and didn’t even prescribe the anti-HIV medicine recommended to rape victims.
Accessing healthcare services, even for common ailments, is traumatic for transgender people because they do not fit traditional gender roles.
'A Door Of Hope'
The Court's ruling making a third gender for India's transgender population is a milestone for this conservative country that still regards homosexuality as a criminal offense.
Not only for the third gender, love can happen between any two individuals and is the purest form.
The colonial-era law known as "Section 377" makes gay sex a crime in India and is used to also target the hijra community. Opponents of the law argue that the penal code established by the British Raj in 1860 prohibiting "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" infringes on fundamentals rights of privacy and expression and has no place in modern India. The Supreme Court convenes on whether to hear full arguments on the law.
Section 377 has been used to threaten, extort, and blackmail members of the hijra community, many of whom are forced into the sex trade to survive.
But as well-established as the hijras may be, they are still regarded by many Indians with discomfort and derision. Ridding society of stigmas and superstitions will be the true test of the hijras' hard-fought recognition.
Recently a photography exhibition was organized by India World Foundation (IWF), New Delhi with collaboration ICCR, Kolkata with the name SHAKTI RUPENA -Celebrate womanhood.
IWF has been active in selfless social work for our global society since 2003 especially in the field of Women & Child Development. Environment, Health, Education, Minority development, Arts & Culture in India & abroad.
The exhibition will be inaugurated by Sovan Chatterjee, Minister in West Bengal Govt., Eminent actresses Debashree Roy, Indrani Haldar, Anjana Basu, have confirmed to be part of this global movement to strengthen women of our global society.
To highlight the power of Women Globally on International Women’s Week Chaitali's lens finds strong correlation between the iconic characters of history with today’s women. She imagines her Sita as a girl next door, having to prove herself over and over again through Agnipariksha. Chaitali’s Rani Laxmibai meets her match in woman officers of the Indian Army. Shaktirupena is also a tribute to new age transgender woman who celebrates her new life!
From time immemorial, the Indian woman has always been somewhat of a mystery - desired for her sensuality, respected for her intelligence and feared for her heroic gallantry.
Photo : Madanmohan Samanta
Photographer Chaitali Chakraborty, has undertaken to do the unthinkable - to document the journey of the eternal Indian woman over centuries through a medium she knows best - photography.
As a modern woman herself, Chaitali has taken the liberty of mixing history with reality, transcending time and portraying iconic Indian women in a modern day setting. She imagines her Sita as a girl next door, having to prove herself over and over again through Agnipariksha. Chaitali’s Rani Laxmibai meets her future incarnation in a woman officer of the Indian Army.
Shakti Rupena is also a tribute to the new age transgender woman. In a bold step, perhaps for the first time in India, Chaitali has restrained from gender typifying them and instead photographed these women as she would any mainstream model. Often treated as outcasts in real life, these Transgenders ooze oomph and glamour in every frame. Being an advertising professional, Chaitali thinks, Transgenders can be a part of today's main stream glamour industry! She captured true Transgender beauties in her unique way. They look equally beautiful and glamorous in every frame.
Turning on the star quotient, Tollywood divas Debashree Roy, Indrani Halder, Anjana Basu have ignited life into some of Chaitali’s well conceptualized characters.
However Tista, a resident of Agarpara and renowned transgender actress/ model who is also the primary counselor of Sex Re-assignment Surgical solutions (SRS) Kolkata said she is very happy to be in the glam world and would continue with pleasure with her profession.
Sreya, a middle aged shemale and a bar dancer says the society will always be very rigid and amidst every odd one has to derive happiness.
In an exclusive interview with Radio Bangla Net (RBN), Tista and Shreya confirmed that amidst all odds that they had faced from the society, they are trying hard to establish themselves in the glam world.
RBN- If you can say something about your professional life?
Tista- I am an actress and model and have proven and established myself in that field. Apart from that I am the primary counselor of Sex Re-assignment Solutions Kolkata for last 4 years.
Shreya- I am an established bar dancer and also organize various LGBT events for last 4 years.
RBN- If you can say something about your personal life?
Tista- I stay in Agarpara with my parents and maternal relatives and also an animal lover. Most importantly, my parents and relatives have accepted me and that is all what is important for me.
Shreya- for irregular work schedules I am forced to stay alone at Tollygunge but my parents stay in the same locality, and often meet them almost every day.
RBN- What is your educational qualification?
Tista- I have graduated in Philosophy from CU. Initially I got enrolled myself in Amherst street City college but due to regular bully and harassments I discontinued and however completed my graduation in correspondence course from Bethune college.
Shreya- I am a B.Com graduate and have computer proficiency too.
RBN- Do you want to give any message to the society?
Tista- I don’t really care for the society. India is philosophically enriched country but then Indians’ are very narrow minded and still cannot accept us. If Lord Gopal puts on lipstick and becomes Lord Krishna then the society accepts him as man as He is god, then where is the problem with us human beings. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “Serving mankind is serving God.” I want to live and will live and none from the society I know will help me and I can guarantee that they cannot stop me either. Even in the colonial era many instances show the love between the same genders. When it comes to a normal boy with a boy or a normal girl with a girl then the society has no problem accepting them, but whenever a transgender comes in then the society has all odds too do and comment.
Shreya- Society and their barbs is very common against we transgender. Not only for the third gender, love can happen between any two individuals and is the purest form. But the society will never accept us. At the end of every month society does not come up to pay our bill we have to work hard to make both ends meet. Most importantly, my parents have accepted me and that is all for me. Even people fake love. We all need a person to walk always by us, many men and women approached me but just for fun. I even had to stay in a mental asylum for 25 days just because my neighbors forced my parents to do so. Moreover, I don’t believe in community, I believe in Humanity.
RBN- If you don’t mind speaking about your future plans.
Tista- I want to see me acting in National level, and nothing can stop me. Talks are on for more short and feature films in Tollywood.
Shreya- There is no future plans as such. Will continue doing the same as I am doing. Meanwhile I have also started working in small budget ad films and photo shoots.
However the society and the people are changing rapidly. Last year in Kochi, India got its first Transgender school where the teachers are also transgender. This school helps the students between the age of 25-50 school drop outs to continue with their education.
Another big incident took place in Kolkata, where everyone witnessed the first transgender marriage.
Shree and Sanjay's love story bloomed way back in 2000.Residents of Kestopur, they went to the same school and had fallen for each other. Yet, theirs is not a regular love story. That Shree is a Trans woman made it difficult for the couple to get acceptance. But after 15 long years, it's a triumph of love as the duo is set for legal marriage in Kolkata on Sunday, making it the first legal Trans marriage in the state.
"The journey wasn't easy, but my mother's support kept me going. Sanjay and I were worried about our future together. Two years back, I underwent the sex change operation and felt that there was still some hope," recalled Shree Ghatak, 30, a theatre artiste and an NGO worker fighting for the rights of the underprivileged.
Sanjay Muhury , 32, who works in an MNC, said, "She is beautiful, enigmatic and everything that a man wants her woman to be. She has done a lot for me."
“Both of us were surprised when we found people, who we thought would oppose, ready to fight the battle on our behalf. With such great friends and family members, we can only expect an amazing married life ahead," further added Sanjay.
About her expectations from marriage, Shree, "Sanjay has been with me through thick and thin. All I want from him is love. He is very caring and will be the best husband ever."