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A First for India: A Transgender Principal

A First for India: A Transgender Principal


Last time Manbi Bandopadhyay visited Krishnagar Women's College in West Bengal, she toured the school with her adopted son and a transgender friend. When she returns, she will run the college.

Manabi Bandopadhyay is an Indian woman who is transgender and about to make history. She will soon take the reins to lead Krishnagar Women's College in India's West Bengal state, and according to TheTimes of India, will be the country's first trans college principal.

"This decision was taken by the College Service Commission," state education minister, Partha Chatterjee told the Times. "I don't interfere in their decisions. They are aware of our open mind. I am happy with this decision."

Bandopadhyay currently holds an associate professorship at Bengali's Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya college. According to one of the commission's board members, the hire was based in pragmatism, with an eye toward finding an assertive leader.

"We were in need of a principal with a strong personality to run the college smoothly," Ujjal Biswas, chair of the college's governing body, told the Times.

The struggle for LGBT equality in India has often been a story of contradictions -- perhaps better described as two steps forward, one step back.

In January, Raigarh elected India's first trans mayor, barely two years after the country's Supreme Court reinstated a previously overturned colonial-era law banning gay sex.

Last year, that same court formally recognized transgender as an official third gender, affording legal protections to trans people throughout India.

Last week, the clearly well-meaning mother of a noted LGBT rights activist made history when she put a matchmaking ad for her son in a Mumbai newspaper. After being turned down by other papers, which feared such an ad would actually be illegal, the woman finally found a publisher willing to run the ad. Matchmaking ads are commonplace among Indian parents for their straight sons. However, her ad included language that was widely criticized as classist -- or "caste-ist," to be more precise.

That same issue came into play when the Times reported on Bandopadhyay; the reporter went to great lengths describing her physical appearance and attire during a visit to her new campus. The reporter's coverage of her appointment as the college's new principal noted that "Manabi visited the college, sporting Raybans glasses, curly hair done up in a careless coiffure."

The reporter, however, did include a quote from Bandopadhyay that was more to the point of her taking over the top job at Krishnagar Women's College:

"It is not the post that I sought after," she told the Times. "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."

Manabi Bandopadhyay is somewhat of a celebrity in India, according to the Times, because of her public transition.

"Of course I am excited, but the media attention has left me in a tizzy," she told The Indian Express. "I have been flooded with calls. I understand that my achievement is a big step forward for the transgender movement in the country, but my priority is my students."

Educators at the college told the paper they have high expectations that their new principal will not only bring her leadership skills to the institution, but will also enhance its image nationally.

"Manabi Bandopadhyay is a strong individual," assistant professor of geography, Jayasree Mondal, told the Times. "She has faced many upheavals. We are optimistic about the development of the college during her tenure. She is a celebrity and her [gender identity] isn't an issue for us."

But even with the acceptance of her peers, Bnadopadhyay said India has a long way to go in terms of overcoming confusion about gender identity and expression.

"Even today, parents think that this is a mental health issue," she told the Times. "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 ... transgender."

Bnadopadhyay's role as a leader in education could go a long way toward changing that perception.

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