Reclaiming social and religious spaces: Durga Puja and the transgender community of Kolkata

October 18, 2015 Written By Sakshi Jerath

“I had got a job at a call centre. I left within the first two days. Every time I entered the office everyone stood up and stared at me. It was too embarrassing. Society had not accepted me. But today, I feel I should have not left and fought for my position in the company… Similarly today we are having this Pujo to fight for our position. Gone are the days of being embarrassed because people stared at us. We will fight for our place we will not back down like we used to”

the-raging-feminist-correspondant

Correspondant Rounak Saha with puja organisers

India is seeing its first transgender Durga Puja this year. In its light certain questions of inequality are evoked. The transgender community has been given the status of the third gender, while legally recognized, the members still face discrimination- be it in the economic or cultural sphere- they are still considered the ‘Other’, and often feared because of their “difference”. 

Our correspondent Rounak Saha spoke to Bhanu Naskar who has helped bring about this particular Pujo. 

"The Udyami Yubak Brinda Durga Puja has been taking place for 27 years; however, this year marks a special one as it’s the first time that a Pujo has been organized by the transgender community. Our correspondent was told that the discrimination and judgment that the community faced every year led them to claim their own space and carry out their own Pujo along with reclaiming their identity as a part of the community."

Durga Puja marks an important yearly celebration, which along with being religious plays a significant role in establishing the collective identity of the people.  The humiliation faced by the transgender community whenever they attempted to celebrate with the masses led to their “Othering”. This attempt to mark their own space to continue worship and transcend normative practices has not been easy, yet Bhanu remains optimistic. 

"People earlier were different because the laws were different. Now the administration is different. People like us are becoming Police officers and holding other offices. Earlier, people would eve-tease us and make fun of us on the road. We would purposely avoid taking a few routes back then. But now we can take any route. We don’t have to be scared anymore. People don’t tease us as much. As it is, people say we stink. So people are constantly being mean. But they also want our blessings. Some people give us 10 Rupees, some give us 100 Rupees and some even buy sarees for us. Then there are those who don’t give us anything and roll up the windows of their cars. People have never been too friendly with us. When we take the metro, we take the Ladies compartments. So we see how a lot of young girls get uncomfortable. They keep staring at us. Then there are some who call us to sit beside them. We haven’t become mainstream. We have been fighting and we have received these rights after fighting for years. If we fight more maybe we will receive more rights."

While, the pujo itself sends a loud socio-political message across, the idea was to create a space where the transgender community could feel free to celebrate the festival. “We are doing this so that we can also participate without feeling ostracised. We did this for our celebration”, Bhanu told our correspondent.  

"The idea is mostly to have fun. We have visit Puja pandals and now we will even go for the visarjan. Other brothers can join me from other localities. Because every locality does not let us go to the visarjan with them. But our club let us. Even for that we had to fight a lot. It wasn’t totally easy. There were some local boys who were horrible to us. They are quiet now. Maybe they will say something during the Puja. So we have to fight and we are prepared to fight. We have decided to have fun. We will bring the idol with celebration and we will take it for visarjan with celebration as well."

The idol has been modelled after the Ardhanarishwar, which represents the female and male coming together into one. Our correspondent was told that while people have been calling it a ‘transgender idol’, it is not. It is rooted in mythology and represents their religious sentiments. 

"This idea is basically half-shiv and half-durga. So it’s about ‘Adi Sakti’ (Half-power). We didn’t mean anything else. From the beginning, we had decided to have a half-man-half-woman idol if we do a Puja here at all."

While, we must celebrate the step that has been taken for the integration of the transgender community within the larger framework of society, we must still remain critical about the problems they face.  While, there has not been much resistance from the politico-administrative side, not all the people of the community are as accepting. TRF was told,“There is a stigma attached to the word hijra”.On a macro-level, TRF was told that the discrimination and humiliation are not merely limited to the occupational sphere but also in the case of healthcare, to name one. Thus, there needs to be transformative change in the larger community to tackle the widespread prejudice.   

 

Reclaiming social and religious spaces: Durga Puja and the transgender community of Kolkata

October 18, 2015 Written By Sakshi Jerath

“I had got a job at a call centre. I left within the first two days. Every time I entered the office everyone stood up and stared at me. It was too embarrassing. Society had not accepted me. But today, I feel I should have not left and fought for my position in the company… Similarly today we are having this Pujo to fight for our position. Gone are the days of being embarrassed because people stared at us. We will fight for our place we will not back down like we used to”

the-raging-feminist-correspondant

Correspondant Rounak Saha with puja organisers

India is seeing its first transgender Durga Puja this year. In its light certain questions of inequality are evoked. The transgender community has been given the status of the third gender, while legally recognized, the members still face discrimination- be it in the economic or cultural sphere- they are still considered the ‘Other’, and often feared because of their “difference”. 

Our correspondent Rounak Saha spoke to Bhanu Naskar who has helped bring about this particular Pujo. 

"The Udyami Yubak Brinda Durga Puja has been taking place for 27 years; however, this year marks a special one as it’s the first time that a Pujo has been organized by the transgender community. Our correspondent was told that the discrimination and judgment that the community faced every year led them to claim their own space and carry out their own Pujo along with reclaiming their identity as a part of the community."

Durga Puja marks an important yearly celebration, which along with being religious plays a significant role in establishing the collective identity of the people.  The humiliation faced by the transgender community whenever they attempted to celebrate with the masses led to their “Othering”. This attempt to mark their own space to continue worship and transcend normative practices has not been easy, yet Bhanu remains optimistic. 

"People earlier were different because the laws were different. Now the administration is different. People like us are becoming Police officers and holding other offices. Earlier, people would eve-tease us and make fun of us on the road. We would purposely avoid taking a few routes back then. But now we can take any route. We don’t have to be scared anymore. People don’t tease us as much. As it is, people say we stink. So people are constantly being mean. But they also want our blessings. Some people give us 10 Rupees, some give us 100 Rupees and some even buy sarees for us. Then there are those who don’t give us anything and roll up the windows of their cars. People have never been too friendly with us. When we take the metro, we take the Ladies compartments. So we see how a lot of young girls get uncomfortable. They keep staring at us. Then there are some who call us to sit beside them. We haven’t become mainstream. We have been fighting and we have received these rights after fighting for years. If we fight more maybe we will receive more rights."

While, the pujo itself sends a loud socio-political message across, the idea was to create a space where the transgender community could feel free to celebrate the festival. “We are doing this so that we can also participate without feeling ostracised. We did this for our celebration”, Bhanu told our correspondent.  

"The idea is mostly to have fun. We have visit Puja pandals and now we will even go for the visarjan. Other brothers can join me from other localities. Because every locality does not let us go to the visarjan with them. But our club let us. Even for that we had to fight a lot. It wasn’t totally easy. There were some local boys who were horrible to us. They are quiet now. Maybe they will say something during the Puja. So we have to fight and we are prepared to fight. We have decided to have fun. We will bring the idol with celebration and we will take it for visarjan with celebration as well."

The idol has been modelled after the Ardhanarishwar, which represents the female and male coming together into one. Our correspondent was told that while people have been calling it a ‘transgender idol’, it is not. It is rooted in mythology and represents their religious sentiments. 

"This idea is basically half-shiv and half-durga. So it’s about ‘Adi Sakti’ (Half-power). We didn’t mean anything else. From the beginning, we had decided to have a half-man-half-woman idol if we do a Puja here at all."

While, we must celebrate the step that has been taken for the integration of the transgender community within the larger framework of society, we must still remain critical about the problems they face.  While, there has not been much resistance from the politico-administrative side, not all the people of the community are as accepting. TRF was told,“There is a stigma attached to the word hijra”.On a macro-level, TRF was told that the discrimination and humiliation are not merely limited to the occupational sphere but also in the case of healthcare, to name one. Thus, there needs to be transformative change in the larger community to tackle the widespread prejudice.   

 

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