Durga puja pandals in Kolkata celebrate Supreme Court verdict on section 377
Even a few years ago, involving a transgender person in such a solemn act would have been quite unthinkable.Updated: Oct 15, 2018 13:03 IST
On October 8, in a Durga Puja pandal of Santoshpur Lake Pally (SLP), a community festival in south Kolkata, Shree Muhuri Ghatak, a transgender woman, drew the eyes of the goddess, considered a sacred act that symbolises infusing life in the idol.
Even a few years ago, involving a transgender person in such a solemn act would have been quite unthinkable. “We have involved transgender persons in every stage of the puja calendar – from khuntipuja that marks the beginning of the making of the pandal to immersion,” said Somnath Das, general secretary of the SLP committee.
“This is a unique initiative where Bengal’s biggest festival is becoming a platform to educate people against discrimination of any sort,” said Ghatak, who has become the brand ambassador of this 61-year-old community puja.
“Though we were toying with the idea of spreading awareness of LGBTQ rights, the Supreme Court verdict of September 6 vindicated our stand and emboldened us to go full steam ahead,” said Das.
Ghatak is not the only one. Megh Sayantan Ghosh, the first transgender lawyer in West Bengal, drew the eyes of the idol in Jodhpur Park Cultural Association in south Kolkata and Torpedo Welfare Society in Howrah.
“Just as the goddess does not discriminate between her children, we need to spread the message that irrespective of gender and sexual identity, human beings should be respected,” said Ghosh.
Syed Tanveer Nasreen, professor-in-charge, department of women’s studies in University of Burdwan describes these as “imaginative use of the festival for positive sensitization.”
“The entire community has been relegated to the fringes of the society. The puja committees have taken a bold step to involve LGBTQ members to spread the message that discrimination has to end fast,” said Nasreen, who thinks the association of the goddess with community members sends a powerful message to the common people.
Going a step forward, there are examples of the goddess being worshipped as Ardhanarishvara – a composite androgynous of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. This puja has been organised by Ranjita Sinha, member of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board, and her associates on the Gokhale Road in south Kolkata.
“I have deliberately chosen this year to organise the Puja to celebrate the Supreme Court verdict that relived Indians of the baggage of British colonial legacy. The goddess as Ardhanarishvara is a significant symbol of our movement against gender discrimination,” Sinha said.
Significantly, the idol makers for the Gokhale Road puja are all trans-men or trans-women. “They got the chance to showcase their creative talents,” said Sinha.
During community pujas in north Kolkata from October 16 to 18, transgender persons, dressed up like Durga and her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati, will showcase the theme of gender-equality at the pandal. This puja is being organised by Anandam, an NGO working for the community welfare and Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a body set up in 1995 that works for the rights and welfare of sex workers.
Sintu Bogai, the general secretary of Anandam, said, “With the long awaited Supreme Court verdict finally decriminalising same sex relations, this is the perfect year for this particular theme. We have crafted the slogan ‘Amio Nari, Tumio Nari (I am a woman, so are you).”
Pratyay Gender Trust that is putting together the Ardhanarishvara puja is finding it difficult to organise funds. “However, to celebrate the Supreme Court verdict, we are organising the puja in a modest way,” said Pratyay representative, Anchal.
Bengal had always been a centre for movement against section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised same-sex relationship. In July 1999, the first gay pride walk in the country was held in Kolkata. In mid 2015, the government appointed Manabi Bandopadhyay, a transgender, as the principal of Krishnagar Women’s College, the first in the country.