India Just Got Its 1st Transgender College Principal: When Merit Won Over Stigmatization

Posted on May 28, 2015 in LGBTQ, Society, Taboos

By Shinjini Devbarman

It is not every day that you scroll down your Facebook page and come across something that pleasantly surprises you. As news of Manabi Bandyopadhyay becoming the first transgender college principal flooded my news feed, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud.

Source: ABP News
Manabi Bandyopadhyay. Source: ABP News

Her taking charge as an important symbol of authority at Krishna Nagar Women’s College in West Bengal is a massive step up for the transgender movement in India. In a society where people from the LGBT community are still pushed to the periphery, news like this can have a positive effect on the way people treat the community. Appointing a trans-individual as the head of an institution means that merit has won the battle over a socially ascribed status.

Born as Somnath, Manabi Bandyopadhyay underwent sex change surgery in 2003. Narrating her story for a newspaper, she recalled the major hiccups on her way to success. Her story of success will hopefully be a wake-up call for the society to be accepting of all expressions of human sexuality.

People who identify themselves as transgender face a plethora of issues. They have been, for years, left out of the purview of ‘traditional‘ social and cultural life. A prime reason for their exclusion has been the lack of acceptance, which has been a major barrier for them in exercising their rights.

Only last year, the Supreme Court of India declared transgender as a third gender, recognizing the amount of discrimination the community has to face on a daily basis. Last month, the Rajya Sabha passed The Rights of Transgender Person’s Bill (2014), which ensures reservations and social inclusion of the transgender community. This landmark ruling for the community will help the transgender community improve their condition from years of marginalization.

Earlier this year, Madhu Bai Kinnar became Mayor of Raigarh in Chhattisgarh by beating her opponent from the BJP by a margin of 4500 votes. She identifies herself as a Dalit transgender. Before this, trans-individuals have been upfront about their rights and have been making news for their achievements. Rose Venkatesan and Padmini Prakash are prominent television personalities who have been challenging society’s boundaries. Years of discouragement hasn’t stopped them from realizing their potential.

One hopes that this historic event will change mindsets across the country. Social prejudices, stereotypes, jokes and the inherent sexism contribute to the ‘othering‘ of a particular community. Their story of exemplifying determination is inspiring. Through their hard work and resilience in their respective fields, they are undoing years of shaming and stigmatization.

It has been a long road for Manabi Bandyopadhyay, but her perseverance has paid off. Her story of success just goes on to prove that gender, or sexual orientation shouldn’t be the criteria that determines one’s achievement or lack of thereof. Gender identities are not the sum total of what defines a human being. Ultimately it is not just a victory for Manabi Bandyopadhyay but a victory for the entire society.