Among the thousands of puja pandals that dot Kolkata, a small-budget puja committee in Sovabazar will stand out this year.
Udyami Yubak Brinda Durga Puja committee, a paara (community) organisation, in partnership with transgender rights activist group Pratyay Gender Trust, is all set to make history with its idol that has been modelled on the Ardhanarishwar or the composite androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati.
The idol was made by China Pal, one of the very few woman artists of Kumartuli, the hub of artisans in Kolkata.
Kolkata’s community pujas are known to experiment with different themes carrying social messages -- from protecting the environment to the scourge of dowry -- and this attempt at mixing the masculine and the feminine in the same body is an effort aimed at a creating space for the city’s transgenders, say organisers.
They say it will create a platform for a gathering and enjoying the biggest socio-religious festival in West Bengal together, apart from creating awareness about the rights of the community in the society. There was no resistance when they mooted the idea.
According to a transgender member of the organising committee, members of their community face a lot of humiliation when they go from one pandal to the other.
“Our puja will not only provide a space for the people from the community to have a common and comfortable gathering platform but also offer a chance to enjoy puja together and socialise,” he said.
Anindya Hajra, founder-member of the Pratyay Gender Trust, however, sees a far more complex logic behind this unique idol. According to Hajra, the overpowering brahminical or the upper caste association and supremacy that are linked with such religious functions, often boil down to discrimination and prejudice.
“This is an attempt to bring an end to that discrimination cutting across caste and gender lines,” he said.
Kaushik Gupta, a criminal lawyer at the Calcutta high court and a leading face of Kolkata’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights movement, said this puja is the right event in the right time.
“A country-wide debate is going on over the rights of the marginalised transgender community and even people from the so-called normal world are slowly coming out in the open in support of their equal right. To me, this event is a genuine attempt to add to the process of creating awareness,” Gupta said.
The total budget of the puja is roughly around Rs 1,50,000 for the 10-day celebrations and the unique idol will be worshipped on Panchami or the fifth day.
The West Bengal government too has moved some ground in involving transgenders in the mainstream like appointing Manabi Bandopadhyay as the first transgender principal of college to considering the recruitment of transgenders in the civic police force. It has set up a state transgender welfare board with Bandopadhyay as the vice-chairperson.
The state government has also taken an initiative to reserve beds in state-run hospitals for members of the transgender community and also to introduce the benefit of sex reassignment surgery in such hospitals.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation too has put in an effort and decided to induct five transgender members into a panel of judges that will go around the city to judge the best pujas in the city.