This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Annesha Ghosh. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Kolkata’s First Durga Puja By Transgenders Promises To Be Amazing

More from Annesha Ghosh

By Annesha Ghosh:

In an exhilarating first, members of Koti, Hijra and other transgender women communities from across Kolkata and its suburbs have come together this year to organize a one-of-a-kind Durga Puja, as an attempt to ‘reclaim the social space’ in the face of ‘ostracism’ levied on the community as a concomitant of their gender, in addition to class and caste hierarchies.

Final3 (1) (1)
‘Ardhanarishwara’ or the composite androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. Photo credit: Sutapa Ray

Organized by Kolkata-based sexual rights initiative, ‘The Pratyay Gender Trust‘, in association with ‘Uddyami Yuvak Brinda’ , the local club of the area, this ‘her’storic Sarbojonin (community) Durga Puja will be held at Jay Mitra Street- a low-key neighbourhood near Sovabazaar, in north Kolkata.

Although the club has been conducting their annual Durga Puja for 27 years now, it is the first time that the association has inducted into its working committee a host of individuals from the transgender women community.

Quite significantly, activities that are traditionally male dominated– from the choice of theme to conceptualizing the idol; decoration of the ‘Pandal’ (marquee) to collection of subscription and formation of a Puja Committee – will now see the active participation of transgender women.

The Puja celebrations will be inaugurated with a ‘Jatra’ (a form of folk-theatre) performance by the troupe of senior transgender artist Manorama Kinnar on October 18. With an estimated budget of Rs. 1.50 lakhs, the group has also started a fundraising drive on Facebook, inviting donations from the public, in order to secure a sound financial base to this first-of-its-kind initiative.

For 55-year old Bhanu Naskar, the realization of a dream conceived a year ago has heralded a new dawn. “Being a Hijra has never made me feel ashamed of my identity. However, the discriminatory gaze that transgender individuals are subjected to in the public domain, especially during social and religious gatherings, has often made us think disgracefully of ourselves. Given the undeniable significance of Durga Puja as a well-known trope in the social sphere, it was in early January this year that we came up with this idea of organizing a Durga Puja, where transgender women would be actively involved in the multifarious activities of the festival,” said the secretary of The Pratyay Gender Trust.

Bhanu Naskar with artisan China Pal. Photo credit: Sutapa Pal
Bhanu Naskar with artisan China Pal. Photo credit: Sutapa Ray

As a poignant afterthought Naskar added how the first thoughts concerning this move was subconsciously triggered by the all too frequent denials they would be greeted with, barring them from participating in simple festive rituals like offering Anjali on Ashtami or the partaking in the traditional ‘Sindoor Khela’ (the smearing of vermilion among married women on Vijay Dashami), which marks the culmination of the six-day festivities.

Asked about the import this collaborative enterprise may bear on the larger consciousness of the transgender community, Anindya Hazra, founder of Pratyay Gender Trust crafted a thoughtful response: “On any given day, it’s a lot easier to do things in isolation. There is little or no resistance from other societal forces at work and you can afford to have your way without having to face the realities of a ‘gendered’ existence, especially one that is arguably far more rigidly demarcated than the conventionally ‘accepted’ ones. But the dynamics change drastically when you attempt to pursue the same narrative in a broader social realm.

Regardless of how guarded and problematized this space may be, irrespective of the severity of the limitations incumbent upon the middle-class society, the requisites of the present times mandate that our endeavours do not preclude this space or the people who inhabit it. As a result, right from the word go, we were firm on our resolution that if members of our transgender women community are to organize this Puja, they must do so in collaboration with representatives of the local club and residents of the neighbourhood,” Hazra added.

At the nucleus of what plays itself out as a nuanced socio-politico-religious discourse, conceived with an unmistakable earnestness to infuse an embracive sensibility amongst the public towards those inhabiting the queer space, manifests the majestic idol of the mother-goddess, fashioned after the mythical ‘Ardhanarishwara’ or the composite androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. Artistically underlying the sexless or multi-sexual aspect of the soul, the sublime androgynous representation is being brought to life by one of the few yet finest craftswomen in Kumortuli – the famed potters’ quarter in north Kolkata.

For China Pal, the first female artisan in Kumortuli, creating the idol for Bhanu and company has been anything but a commonplace experience. “I had taken on the mantle of idol-making following the bereavement of my father in 1994. Since then the idols churned out from my workshop have travelled places, garnered myriad accolades. However, never before did I get the opportunity to collaborate in as unique an enterprise as this. The emotional investment on this occasion has been inexplicably high. For those who have been, time and again, shunned by the self-styled custodians of society, I couldn’t help but extend my support to this brave endeavour and do my bit in help mainstreaming their cause.”

Since the news of this valiant enterprise first came to light on social media, the response to the same been overwhelming, to say the least. If the ever-increasing congratulatory posts and show of support on Facebook, the multiplying local media coverage, the renewed encouragement extended by the residents of the neighbourhood, or separate developments such as recruitment of transgenders into the Civic Police Volunteer Force (CPVF) are anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a far cry to assert that Kolkata is certainly opening itself to a possibility of creating a harmonious, embracive interspace where individuals, regardless of their ‘gendered identities’, can claim their right to equal and honourable participation.

You must be to comment.
  1. Chirag Aidasani

    I love the fact that this is being done & hope transgenders & homosexuals are awarded their rights & find greater acceptance in the society. The article itself though was a bit underwhelming. The English is a bit incomprehensible & I would suggest the author to concentrate on the content rather than using complex words. I’m really Sorry if I’m coming off as rude, just an honest suggestion.

  2. Rj Roy

    The Gods accept worship from all human beings and hence lesser accepted sections of a society also have the right to worship Gods , here , Devi Durga . Loved the way the author has put this initiative as a “her”storic one instead of the regular HIStoric – to highlight the positive change that this move will bring in for sure !

  3. Serge Bouvet

    Hi Annesha,
    I’m would like to come on september 25th until 27th to Kolkata. I would like to shot the procession of Hijra and other transgender women communities.
    My name is Serge Bouvet. I’m photographer. My website is http://sergebouvet.com/.

    Best regards from Paris.
    Serge Bouvet, French photographer.

More from Annesha Ghosh

Similar Posts

By Rupsa Nag

By Rupsa Nag

By Silca

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below