The courtyard of the ramshackle three-storied structure had been swept clean, pots of wilted petunias had been arranged around the entrance, a colourful welcome banner at the gate read, ‘Be a mother to us’ and students and staff at the Krishnanagar Women’s College were ready with bouquets and sweets to welcome their new principal.
As Manabi Bandyopadhyay, 53, took charge of the Krishnanagar Women’s College on Tuesday, becoming the country’s first transgender principal, the celebration in this provincial town,110 km north of Kolkata, had found resonance across the country.
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The waiting crowd on Tuesday morning was made up of students, teachers and curious onlookers. Mahasina Khatoon,18, a first-year student, said she didn’t know what the word transgender meant until about two weeks ago. When she read about her new principal in a local daily, she looked up the word transgender in the dictionary. “I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t shocked. I immediately thought of the effeminate boy in my locality. I felt bad about the way he is teased by everybody,” said Khatoon.
At a grocery shop across the college, its owner Jayanta Modak entertained a crowd of curious onlookers. “They all want to see the celebrity principal who has joined the college. All this while we have looked down upon transgenders, but now we have to change our mindset. I couldn’t ever imagine that a transgender person can move up so much in life,” said Modak.
Ever since news of Bandyopadhyay’s appointment broke a few weeks ago, she has been flooded with congratulatory calls. Born to a government employee father and a homemaker mother in the outskirts of Kolkata, Bandyopadhyay was always academically inclined. She previously taught at the Vivekananda Satobarshikhi Mahavidyalaya at Jhargram for nearly 20 years and underwent a sex reassignment surgery in 2003 during her tenure there. In the following years, she has become one among the few people in this community who are challenging stereotypes about them.
A few days ago, the West Bengal government appointed her the vice-chairperson of the third gender development board. “I do realise that I have a lot to do for the transgender community of the state. I feel it’s the duty of every citizen of the country to help the community become part of the mainstream,” said Bandyopadhyay, in a phone conversation on the way to the college.
Meanwhile, the staff at the college that has about 1,800 students, said they were looking forward to Bandyopadhyay’s tenure. “We have been without a principal for the past three years. We need a strong administrator, we need a better equipped library, we haven’t had any new appointments in the past two decades,” said teacher-in-charge Bulu Modak who handed over the charge to Bandyopadhyay. Then there are some who like Suryandu Chakraborty who
Then there are some who like Suryandu Chakraborty who want to share stories with her. Chakraborty, who has been teaching English at the college for the past nine years, is writing his Ph.D thesis on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) studies. “I feel it’s a beautiful irony that she is joining our college as principal. I couldn’t have asked for a better case study,” said Chakraborty.
By 11 a.m., the wait was finally over as Bandyopadhyay’s car drove into the college campus, surrounded by media and well-wishers. Dressed in a crisp yellow cotton sari, Bandyopadhyay got off the car and took a walking tour of the campus. “I know that I happen to be the only transgender principal of the country and obviously that is important. But it’s also true I haven’t come here through any kind of quota. I am here as a woman who has worked hard for everything I have achieved. I hope that’s remembered,” she said.
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