In a Historic First, Kolkata to Host First Transgender Durga Pujo

Why has the transgender community of Kolkata decided to host its own Durga Pujo?

3 min read
The ardhanarishwar Durga, created by the transgender community of Kolkata. (Photo Courtesy: Pratyay Gender Trust)

If you listen to every bit of news in the country today you will no doubt come to the conclusion that the world has become an incredibly difficult place for communities and peoples to cohabit peacefully.

A festival like Durga Pujo – so humongous and joyous in its magnitude – is also, ironically a time when certain people feel completely ostracised. This is hard to believe, but true – so speak the kothi, hijda and transgender communities of Kolkata. Whenever they’ve tried to visit the beautiful pujo pandals of the city, they have faced sexual harassment and ridicule – constantly made conscious of their gender identity.

Thus, in a historic attempt, the transgender women of Kolkata are organising their own Durga Pujo and – generously enough – keeping the doors open for the general public. A lesson in tolerance, anyone?

Why Kolkata’s Transgenders are Organising Their Own Durga Pujo

“(This pujo) is a way to cross gender lines – as ‘women’ and ‘outcastes’,” says Anindya Hajra of Pratyay Gender Trust.
“(This pujo) is a way to cross gender lines – as ‘women’ and ‘outcastes’,” says Anindya Hajra of Pratyay Gender Trust.

Behind this extraordinary effort, is the Pratyay Gender Trust, a collective that was founded in 1997 by members of Kolkata’s kothi, hijda and other gender non-conforming or transgender women communities, who remain excluded from the mainstay of broad human rights movements.

We are conscious how sites of worship and associated rituals have Brahminical associations and often act as a site of misogyny, prejudice and violence. Ours is an attempt to question these practices and caste or class structures. It is a way to cross gender lines – as ‘women’ and ‘outcastes’ –who have traditionally been barred from taking part in integral aspects of socio-religious functions such as Durga Pujas. Here, decision-making powers and participation have by and large remained in the control of men, mostly from the upper caste or class.
– Anindya Hajra of Pratyay Gender Trust

Right from conceptualising the idol to each intricate detail of the pujo (domains traditionally male-dominated) such as – decoration of the pandal, collection of subscription to the formation of a committee – everything is being performed by transgender women here. Even the artist who is sculpting the idol is the only woman artist in Kumortuli!

The Durga Idol Will be Half Man and Half Woman

Artist China Pal with her creation, the unique ardhanarishwar Durga. (Photo Courtesy: Pratyay Gender Trust)
Artist China Pal with her creation, the unique ardhanarishwar Durga. (Photo Courtesy: Pratyay Gender Trust)

The protima or idols of Durga and her children are equally interesting.

It is being modelled on the ‘Ardhanarishwar’ concept, that of half man and half woman; Shiva and Durga, the masculine and the feminine within the same body. However, we are conforming to the traditional ‘ek chala thakur’ (that has typical features like potol chera chokh, khaash mukh, ghora simha), a style familiar in Bengal. The idea was to explore the gendered lines within the traditional framework.
– Anindya Hajra of Pratyay Gender Trust

The pujo, which has now found overnight fame on social media for its unique appeal, is being organised in association with Joy Mitra Street Udyami Yubak Brinda, a club that has been organising pujo for over 26 years. Bhanu Naskar, secretary, and Monorama Kinnar, president of the six-member pujo committee formed by Pratyay, initiated this collaboration with the club.

“This collaboration and sharing of efforts is geared to create scope for conversations between communities where we as transgender women and our families live,” Naskar said.

As things stand, transgender women face multiple forms of marginalisation and continue to suffer social violence owing to their sexuality. These women are also disentitled from women’s rights on grounds of their ‘biological gender’ – they have become outsiders to the feminist movement.

This Durga Pujo, one hopes their efforts at assimilation may bear fruit and manage to make pujo what it should be – a festival of inclusion and of sheer, unadulterated joy.

(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)

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