IN A first, the West Bengal Assembly elections would see transgender candidates contesting from two high-profile seats in Kolkata — Bhawanipore and Jadavpur. Both have been fielded by Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
Announcing the party’s list of 63 candidates for the Bengal polls on Friday, Mira Chakraborty, LJP state president, said the inclusion of transgender candidates was a conscious decision by party head Ram Vilas Paswan.
“We want the people from transgender community to rise up in life, and represent not only the members of their community, but also the poor and oppressed,” Chakraborty said. While 39-year-old Bobby Halder would be contesting against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from Bhawanipore, Shankari Mandal (30) would be fighting it out at Jadavpur.
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Halder, who identifies herself “as a social worker first and then a hijda”, is a well-known public figure in her hometown, Joynagar (South-24 Parganas district), where she has worked for the betterment of the hijda community. “I have tried to educate the hijdas and transgender people from our area about their voting rights. It is appalling that only about 700 of us have been included in the voters’ list as transgenders, when there are at least 30,000 transgenders and hijdas in the state,” she said.
With a monthly income of Rs 4000 and four daughters to support, Halder had joined LJP a few months ago. Despite having practically no political experience, Halder said she was confident about her chances despite being pitted against heavyweights such as Mamata, Congress’s Deepa Dasmunsi and BJP’s Chandra Kumar Bose. “We hijdas are used to fighting odds…I was rendered homeless when I was a little boy and had to fend for myself since then. I know what it takes to struggle and move up in life,” she said.
Admiring Mamata’s rise from a “humble background”, Halder, however, said, “Didi forgot about us. She promised a lot but never delivered.”
Shankari Mandal, the other transgender candidate of the party, has similar grouses against the Trinamool government. “I know nothing about the Transgender Board which was set up with much fanfare by the state government. How did it benefit us? What has it done for the hijdas begging at traffic signals?” asks Mandal.
Stating that she was lucky to be able to represent her community, Mandal said she has many plans if elected . “I will focus on the slums near the railway lines. They have no proper toilets, I will ensure that they get proper public toilets,” she said.
Halder, too, wants to work for her constituency. “I want to work for the pavement dwellers. I will build night shelters for them like the ones in Delhi,” she said.
Ranjita Sinha, a transgender activist from Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal (ATHB), said these two candidates were “beacons of hope” for their community. “I don’t know them but I will wholeheartedly support them. It is a shame that the ruling party hasn’t fielded a single transgender candidate in this year’s election even after swearing allegiance to the community,” Sinha said.