India appoints first transgender as college principal

Published May 27, 2015
India's transgender activists have hailed the decision as a proud day for the community that usually faces discrimination. — Photo courtesy: Creative commons
India's transgender activists have hailed the decision as a proud day for the community that usually faces discrimination. — Photo courtesy: Creative commons

KOLKATA: In an unprecedented development, India has appointed its first transgender college principal in the state of West Bengal, said a report published on the Times of India (TOI).

Manabi Bandyopadhyay, who currently serves as an associate professor of Bengali at the Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya college, is set to take charge as principal of the Krishnagar Women's College on June 9.

India's transgender activists have hailed the decision as a proud day for the community that usually faces discrimination. Last year, India's Supreme Court declared the transgender community as a legal third gender, granting them minority rights and privileges to education, employment and health benefits.

Manabi, who is receiving a gush of calls and friend requests on social networking sites after her appointment, underwent a sex change operation to become a woman in 2003, in Kolkata.

Colleagues and students are excited to welcome Manabi as principal, who boasts a somewhat celebrity status to her name, after her participation as a contestant on Bigg Boss Bangla, the Bengali-language version of the reality TV programme Bigg Boss.

An assistant professor of geography where Manabi is set to hold the top rank remarked, "Manabi Bandopadhyay is a strong individual. She has faced many upheavals. We are optimistic about the development of the college during her tenure. She is a celebrity and her sexual orientation isn't an issue for us."

Student Payal Mallick who considers Manabi an inspiration commented: "She is a celebrity. It is good news that we are getting her as our principal."

Bengali assistant professor Prakash Mondal remarked, "She is free-spirited. She has a good command over her subject. This college has not had any principal for long. We are happy to have her as our principal."

Commenting on the decision to pick Manabi as college principal, technical education minister Ujjal Biswas, who chairs the college governing body, said they were "in need of a principal with a strong personality to run the college smoothly".

According to the TOI report, Manabi visited the Krishnagar college on Tuesday accompanied by her adopted son Debasish Manabiputro and transgender friend Jyoti Samanta, but was nonchalant to the hype around her appointment. She sported Rayban sunglasses and had her curly hair done up, her demeanour casual.

"It is not the post that I sought after. My 92-year-old father lives in Naihati. I took up this offer because I knew it will help me stay close by and look after him. My new colleagues had seen me on television but I had only heard their voices. I wanted to meet them personally before joining," she was quoted as saying.

Manabi, who was known as Somnath as a man and changed her name to Manabi (meaning woman in Bengali), realises a lot more needs to be done and hardships remain for members for her community.

"Even today parents think that this is a mental health issue. A few days back, a boy from Burdwan committed suicide when he couldn't stand the pressure from his parents, who wanted him to take psychiatric help because he was a transgender," she opens up.

Manabi commented about sexual reassignment surgery, which very few in the country can afford, as: "I have come across boys who don't have support from their parents and cannot get operated upon without their consent. They resort to birth control pills, hoping that the high estrogen will help them feel like women. But they don't realize that these pills will cause more harm than good."

TOI quoted state education minister Partha Chatterjee as saying: "This decision [to appoint Manabi as college principal] was taken by the College Service Commission. I don't interfere in their decisions. They are aware of our open mind. I am happy with this decision."

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