Bengal’s transgender development board all-around failure, alleges member
The West Bengal Transgender Development Board was set up with much fanfare. But two years down the line, a board member tells HT that nothing seems to be moving.
In June 2015, the transgender community in West Bengal was elated after the Mamata Banerjee government set up the state transgender development board -- the first in the country -- with the first transgender college principal in the country, Manabi Bandopadhyay, as its vice-chairperson. It was a step, members of the completely marginalised community thought, that might become a watershed moment helping them channelise a few state benefits towards them, and on a broader plane, initiate the process of bringing them closer to the mainstream.
But two years after its formation, that air of excitement and expectancy has given way to despair and despondency, with the board members themselves telling HT that there has been little progress in any of the four promises made by the chairperson of the board, Dr Sashi Panja, who is also the state minister of women & child development and social welfare minister.
Read: IGNOU announces course fee waiver for transgender students
Tired of waiting, the board members have finally spoken out to HT, highlighting how the functioning of the board has suffered since its high-profile creation in May 2015.
Not known to mince words, board member Ranjita Sinha, told HT, “The first basic flaw is conducting a proper census of people from transgender community, which include trans-women (male to female), trans-men (female to male) and hijras or eunuchs. According to the board’s record, the number is just 700. But as far figures compiled by different activist groups, the number is at least 30,000 and I think, it is even higher if a proper census is conducted.”
There are also complaints of lackadaisical attitude to even holding regular meetings. “While the board members are supposed to meet once a month, there has only been five meetings in 24 months,” said Sinha.
The board that was the first development board for transgenders by any Indian state has 15 members of whom six are from the community, an officer each from the departments of health, education, police, women & child, social welfare and two film personalities (actor Churni Ganguly and scriptwriter Leena Ganguly) apart from the chairperson and vice chairperson.
Read: Social inclusion: Bengal govt rains sops on transgenders
Tamil Nadu was the first state to set up a welfare board for the community in 2008. Maharastra set up its welfare board in 2014. Then followed Bengal with a development board in 2015. Andhra Pradesh is in the process of setting up its board now.
Interestingly, two years ago the Bengal government began on a moral high ground. “The word ‘welfare’ indicates an attitude of charity, while ‘development’ confers a sense of rights among the marginalised community,” Panja remarked when the board was announced in Bengal.
All that seems to be a distant past now. “Though we emphasise the need to hold regular meetings, the constant refrain is that the government officers have other preoccupations,” alleged Sinha, who runs an NGO for transgenders in Kolkata.
The second promise, that is yet to be fulfilled, pointed out transgender rights activist and a trans-woman cinema silver screen personality, Tista Das, is introduction sex reassignment surgery (SRS) facilities in all the 17 state-run medical colleges and hospitals in the state.
Read: Fund crunch forces Bengal to shelve sex change surgery facilities in govt hospitals
“Had it been introduced, the cost of SRS would have come down to a great extent. Second, the health hazards related to these complicated surgeries would have been taken care of to a great extent. Till today, forget about introduction of SRS facilities and allotment of special units for it, even the system of pre-surgery counseling has not been introduced in a single state- run medical college & hospital,” said Tista Das. She runs an agency called SRS Solutions to take care of pre-surgery counseling.
Echoing Tista, Sinha said that she, along with some other board members from the community has raised this issue several times in different board meetings. “However, the government always has excuses like fund-crunch or lack of availability of doctors,” Sinha said.
Repeated attempts by this correspondent to contact minister and board chairperson, Dr Sashi Panja for her comments failed as she chose not to respond to phone calls and text messages.
The board vice-chairperson, Manabi Bandopadhyay, however, came forward in defense of the board. “Initial work has started to introduce SRS facility at SSKM and R G Kar Medical Colleges & Hospitals. This is a complicated process and cannot happen overnight. My suggestion the complaining board members that they should resign from the board first and forego the monthly honorarium of Rs 10,000 before approaching the media to malign the board,” said Bandopadhyay.
Read: Is Delhi University transgender-friendly? No way, say students seeking admission
Joe Dutta, a trans-man and an employee of state agriculture department, said that the third important promise that is yet to be fulfilled is setting up separate public toilets for people from transgender community. “Over two years have passed since the promise was made and not a single such toilet has been set up anywhere in the state,” Dutta said.
In a counterargument, Manabi Bandopadhyay said that the board deliberately did not go ahead with the idea of special toilets, since it apprehends that these toilets might turn out of dens of unsocial activities.
Trans-woman Bharat Natyam dancer, Shreya Karmakar, who has to do some odd jobs since she is unable to get suitable employment said the board has also failed to secure jobs that were promised in the civic police force. “Not a single one from the community is yet to get a job in the civic police,” Shreya said.
Manabi Bandyopadhyay rebutted saying there was not a single application from the community, and therefore, neither the board nor the government can be blamed for it. Ranjita Sinha claimed that she and some other board members recommended a panel from the community. “But a single one among those recommended by us received interview calls,” Sinha said.
Aavya Nath, a trans-woman fashion designer and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) graduate said that the creation of the board brought hopes for the people of the community for a better life. “But after two years of its formation we have realized that the board is good-for-nothing and we have to solve our own problems without waiting for any support from the board,” she said.