Manabi, India’s First Transgender College Principal, Says She Never Waited For Acceptance

While the Supreme Court of India striking off Section 377 has brought immense pride and a feeling of acceptance in the LGBTQ community, the first transgender college principal of India, Manabi Bandyopadhyay, shared with Femina on how she never waited to be accepted.

“My life has never been a bed of roses, but I never compromised or waited for acceptance,” said Manabi. “It has been quite some time since I became the principal of a women’s college in Krishnanagar, West Bengal. I am often asked by the media, even now, whether society is more accepting of me after I became the first transgender principal of an Indian college. Let me tell you, I don’t wait for anyone’s acceptance.”

She continued that coming from a middle-class family, it was even more difficult and harder for her parents to accept the reality. “I come from a middle-class family in Naihati, West Bengal, and my parents had to put up with constant barbs regarding my sexuality from people around us as they tried to figure out exactly what kind of an animal I was,” Manabi recalled as she added, “I was called Somnath then.”

Manabi further shared that she constantly faced discrimination in her previous colleges and nobody accepted her as a woman. Recalling her journey, she shared, “When I used to travel in a local train, men made advances. I opted for a sex change operation in 2004. People suggested that I should call myself Pinky, Karishma and other such names. I chose to call myself Manabi, which in English means a beautiful person.”

With time and amendments in law, there was acceptance for the third gender but prejudices and stereotypes still followed. And, Manabi feels that the media has played a big role in retaining the bias. “I think media insults us, transgenders, in some way when they talk about ‘acceptance’. It is as though we transgenders or women, for that matter, don’t exist unless the patriarchy accepts us,” she said.

Sharing another instance of being stereotyped, she said, “A leading Indian publishing house was publishing my biography on my birthday in September, a couple of years ago. Don’t get me wrong — I was happy to have been approached for the book. But, as I had told my biographer, the focus had been mainly on my sexuality and love life. What about my ideology, philosophy, and mission? A lot of things can remain unsaid when someone else is narrating the story of your life. I can’t complain; my workload doesn’t give me the time to write.”

Manabi, who has been teaching for 20 years, said that it’s not easy being a principal in a general college. She shared, “Our college is located in a remote corner of Bengal where we cannot really expect any winds of change. I am a stubborn person and I want to bring in reforms despite the constraints I deal with.”

She added, “Most girls get themselves enrolled in this college to become, for lack of a better term, ‘marriage-worthy’. They treat this college as some kind of a finishing school. But there are good students as well and I try to ensure a holistic education for them. I try to bring in efficiency in the system. Thanks to the state education minister’s intervention, I have managed to paint the rundown college building, which hasn’t witnessed any renovation since 1958. Call this an achievement, if you will.”

After teaching for over two decades, Manabi now wants to retire soon and get embraced in the arms of mother nature. “I want to get out of this professional trap and live in the mountains. I am not a homosexual, so I couldn’t have lived with a woman. I never wanted to lead an unbearable life being married to a woman. I cannot be what I am not,” she stated.

Her message for people having difficulty in adapting to the changes is, “I have a simple message for people: Rise above intolerance and follow in the footsteps of role models such as Tagore and Vivekananda. Efforts should be made to do away with biases and prejudices. There are misconceptions galore and the media plays a vital role in putting forth the right perspective.”

Source - Women Blog

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