“My harassers belonged mostly to the educated, urban, middle classes”: An Interview with Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first transgender principal

07 December 2015
ILF Samanvay
ILF Samanvay

On 9 June 2015, Manabi Bandyopadhyay took charge of Krishnanagar Women’s College in West Bengal’s Nadia district. She is the first transgender person in the country to be appointed the principal of a college. The news, splashed across newspapers, catapulted the 53-year-old Manabi into a world of attention and fame. Since then, she has been engaged in public conversations, speaking about her sexuality and the personal humiliations she had to face as a transgender person. Bandyopadhyay’s personal experiences with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and with the Trinamool Congress—two of West Bengal’s leading political parties, both rooted in differing political ideologies—shed some light on the paradoxical political and social contradictions that often characterise such organisations, and how these reflect in their attitudes towards feminist and queer groups. According to her, the progressive CPI (M)—which led the Left Front government in West Bengal—consistently refused to acknowledge her gender transformation in the state’s official administrative records. On the other hand, Bandyopadhyay said, the Trinamool Congress chief minister Mamata Banerjee, whose comments in the past have been widely criticised as being gender-insensitive, reportedly took a personal interest in correcting these records and clearing the pending dues owed to her by the University at which she was teaching.

On 29 November 2015, the senior journalist Monobina Gupta met Bandyopadhyay in Delhi, at the ILF Samanvay Languages Festival, where Bandyopadhyay was speaking on the effect that recognition of sexuality and gender can have on the public perception of the individual. In this interview, Bandyopadhyay discusses her experience and the hardships she faces as a transgender person. She asserts that the CPI-M has not really followed Marxism in its letter and spirit, and that, to her, Banerjee is the “sachcha” (true) communist.

Monobina Gupta: You have engaged with both the Left Front government and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government. Tell me about your experiences vis-à-vis these governments as a transgender person.

Manabi Bandyopadhyay: Mamata Banerjee gave me my identity and dignity as Manabi Bandyopadhyay—a trans-woman. Before she came to power, I had to fight the Left Front government to get my legitimate recognition as a woman—something that the Left government denied me. The college in Jhargram, where I used to teach Bengali, owed me a huge amount of accumulated dues from my increment, all of which were stopped because they refused to make the changes that were necessary in the University’s official records to recognise me as a woman. This is despite a court affidavit certifying me as Manabi after my sex-change operation in 2003. Three years on, I completed my PhD from Kalyani University as Manabi Bandyopadhyay which entitled me to a higher grade of increments. But my name was not changed in my college records which continued to identify me as Somnath Bandyopadhyay (the name I was known by before the sex change surgery). I repeatedly petitioned the Left Front government to recognise the change in my identity and my name. I was awarded a PhD degree in 2006 but had to wait until 2011 for the Trinamool Congress government to come to power. Only then could I get the entitlements that were mine as a teacher with a PhD degree.

MG: How did you get the job of a college lecturer under the CPI-M regime?

Monobina Gupta is a senior journalist and author based in New Delhi.

Keywords: transgender Interview Mamata Banerjee Monobina Gupta Manabi Bandyopadhyay