Once lecturer now spiritual guru,Puneet Mahant did it all for right to dignity
Ten years ago,Census 2001 had marked them as males. Again last year,this husband and wife were asked to fill in the forms as males during a survey for Punjab government jobs. Now,Census 2011,for the first time,has given Puneet Mahant and Poonam Mahant the right to mark their identity as what they are transgenders. But this familys fight for right to dignity started many years before,through education.
Puneet was in Class XII when he realised that he was not like the others. I had no idea that I was a transgender as my mother,a transgender herself,never made me dance or sing at weddings; there was no clapping at home and she just told me to earn respect through education, says 34-year-old Puneet,who went on to complete his Masters in English and did a BEd and MPhil to become a guest lecturer at the Government College,Fazilka.
Born in Hamirpur of Himachal Pradesh in a well-off traders family,the fair-complexioned Puneet was left with someone his mother called her sister. Though we are scoffed at if we call someone a masi (mothers sister) or bua (fathers sister),we do have family relations among us. I was in kindergarten school when I first met my mother and I used to find her just like other mothers, says Puneet.
But 65-year-old Parveen Mahant knew better. Not educated herself,she decided to give this child the gift of knowledge. I wanted him to be respected like an officer but faced a lot of opposition from within my community who said we do not get government or private jobs but make a living out of singing and dancing. But some consider us as auspicious and invite us to ceremonies. If not,we go uninvited. In both cases,we are shunned soon after. Only education can get us respect and acceptance, she says.
When he turned 10,Parveen took under her care yet another child of their kind,one-and-a half-month old Poonam. She passes off as just another shy girl,busy cooking and cleaning until her mother reveals why she was left to her. And this family made its first rule no clapping at home. Even,liquor and non-vegetarian food were not allowed. We are taught clapping since childhood. But education made this ritual undignified at our home, adds Puneet.
Though Poonam could not sustain her interest in studies for long and left school after Class V,Puneets enlightenment about his sexuality only added to determination to spread education among his community. In 1996,he started a school for transgender students from his community at Nadaun in Hamirpur and also enrolled for PhD on origin on kinnars. But he had to leave both midway and return to his ailing mother.
Once in Fazilka,he became a guest lecturer at the government college there and later married Poonam. But for Parveen,just seeing her son as a guest lecturer was not enough. Money was not a problem, she says sitting comfortably inside her two-storey well-furnished home. I asked him to complete what he had left midway.
The quest for knowledge this time took Puneet to a realm none of his community had ventured so far. I started reading the 18 Puranas and later began to give spiritual discourses. Now I travel all over the region from Punjab to Jammu-Kashmir and Himachal and people see me as their guru, he says,describing his discourses as spiritual not religious. But while Parveen is finally content with the respect Puneets new role is getting him,they are taunted by those within their community. But the family is not complaining. We are all of O positive blood group. We can donate to each other and also to other blood groups, he says,unfazed by the criticism.
As other transgender groups battle for one-upmanship over marriage and birth ceremonies held in the town,for Puneet,it is about the bigger question of right to dignity denied due to identity. I look like a male while Poonam looks like a female. Sadly,God did not make us 100 per cent male or female. In the earlier census and the survey for Punjab government jobs done last year,there was only one category for us male. They marked even Poonam as male. Does she in any way look like a male to you? Puneet asks.
This census,they have the right to decide where they belong.