Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal

Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal

May 27, 2015

On June 9, India – if not the world – will get its first transgender college principal when Manabi Bandyopadhyay takes charge of Krishnagar Women's College, in Krishnagar in Nadia district of West Bengal.

On Tuesday morning, 50-year-old Manabi visited the college – curly hair done up in a careless coiffure and a pair of Ray-Bans sitting pretty on her head. Her adopted son, Debasish Manabiputro, and transgender friend, Jyoti Samanta accompanied her. An associate professor of Bengali at Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya, she expects to be relieved of her post on June 8 and join Krishnagar Women's College the next day.

Paving a new way
Having a transgender at the helm of any institution is rare – and the administration believes it will lead to positive vibes for Bengal. State Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee said, “This decision was taken by the college service commission. I don't interfere in their decisions. But they are aware of our open mind. I am happy with this decision.”

Rattan Lal Hangloo, vice-chancellor of Kalyani University, to which Krishnagar Women's College is affiliated, said, “Kalyani University welcomes this decision. She is a fine human being, a good academician and an able administrator. The government step deserves appreciation. We are hopeful that it will empower other members of the transgender community.”

“We were in need of a principal with a strong personality to run the college smoothly. We want Manabi to join as quickly as possible. She had informed me about her visit. But since I was in the Assembly, I couldn't meet her,” said Technical Education Minister Ujjal Biswas, chairman of the college’s governing body.

Manabi says she had applied for the post under the ‘female’ category. “But when I went for the interview, it was changed to transgender,” she recalls. It isn't a ‘reserved’ post and she had to compete with other candidates for it.

Welcome arrival

On Tuesday, Manabi took an early morning train to Krishnagar – not on an official visit, but for a “personal tour” of the campus. Untouched by the excitement around her, Manabi said, “It is not the post that I sought after. My 92-year-old father lives in Naihati (80 km away). 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. They said the library has a lot of books but little space. Let's see if I can do something,” she said.

Debasish, who was close by her side, was beaming when he said, “Maa wanted to give a surprise visit. So, we tagged along.”

Colleagues and students are excited by Manabi's appointment. “Manabi Bandyopadhyay 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,” said Jayasree Mondal, assistant professor in geography. Assistant professor in Bengali, Prakash Mondal said: “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.”

Amal Biswas, head clerk and a governing committee member, said, “We welcome her and are hopeful that she will do good for our college.” Student Payal Mallick considers her an inspiration. “It is good news that we are getting her as our principal,” she said.

An inspiration for many

Manabi is flooded by calls and friend requests on social networking sites. Jyoti, who ekes out a living by playing women in jatras, said, “Manabi-di is an inspiration for us. Today, people back home have accepted my identity. I have even portrayed my own fate in a play. Manabi di's news is a great boost for me. I am taking her help to undergo sex realignment.”

Manabi realises that problems are aplenty and a lot has to be done. “Even today, parents think that this is a mental health issue. A few days back, a transgender boy from Bardhaman committed suicide because he couldn't stand the pressure from his parents to take psychiatric help,” Manabi said.

Voice-over artist Rituraaj, who was born a male and long wanted to convert to a female, is thrilled at Manabi's appointment but doesn’t believe it will make much of a difference to the community. “Manabi-di will continue to help in her personal capacity but most of the community isn’t keen to go through the struggle that she has undergone to reach her level. Neither do they have the education. Manabi-di is an idol for them in terms of wanting to go for sex realignment surgery. But beyond that, most are only interested in earning quick money by client servicing,” he said.

First appeared in the May 27, 2015 Kolkata edition of The Times of India

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