December 5, 2016
Life has thrown several difficulties in her way, but Manabi Bandopadhyay followed her belief in the life-changing power of education, and overcame every hurdle to become the first transgender principal of Krishnagar Women’s College, Nadia, last year.
Born as Somnath Banerjee, Manabi was subjected to cruel taunts from her conservative family and people around her. Through all the pain and humiliation, she turned towards academics, which she believed was the only path to gain respect. She went on to become the first transgender person from West Bengal to get a PhD.
In the 1990s, she was also the first transgender lecturer in Vivekananda Centenary College in Jhargram, West Bengal. But here again, she faced problems as nobody was willing to accept her as a woman and wanted to register her as a male lecturer.
In 1995, she started a magazine titled ‘Ob-Manab’, meaning sub-human, alluding to society’s treatment of transgendered people.
She underwent a sex change operation in 2003 to embrace her femininity and took the new name of Manabi, meaning ‘beautiful woman’ in Bengali. She also adopted a son, Debashish, who was her student. Debashish is now the sub-editor of Ob-Manab.
Talking with Covai Post, Manabi spoke about her biography and what she has done for her counterparts.
It has been about a year and a half since you took up the role of principal, how has the journey been?
It has been tough, because I always get the feeling that while the lecturers say that they agree with you, you feel that in their mind that they don’t agree. In fact, they are not able to accept a transgender principal even now.
Sometimes, faculty members disagree with the decisions I take, but I have a good relationship with students, which helps me to get on with my job and accomplish my duties for their betterment.
You are Vice-Chairperson of the first Transgender Development Board constituted in 2015; what has the board done for the transgender community?
We got two transgender students enrolled into Kalyani University; one in MSc Mathematics and one Sri Lankan student for PhD. We are also coming up with programmes which will help transgenders easily get into colleges and university. We also get good support from Mamta didi (Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) and her party.
Why you choose the title ‘A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi’ for your biography?
The title was suggested by the Penguin publisher after reading my biography. Before my birth, I had two sisters and my parents wanted a son. When I was born as a son my parents were very happy and after my birth my dad got a better job, which eventually improved our financial condition. It prompted them to say that I was a gift of goddess Lakshmi.