This Durga Puja, 28-year-old transgender lawyer Sayantani Ghosh, or Megh, as she calls herself, will perform ‘chakshu dan’, the tradition of drawing the eyes of the goddess — mostly done by male artisans — at two community pujas in Kolkata.
She is also the brand ambassador for two other puja organisers — Baghajatin Nirbhik Sangha and Sonarpur Recreation Club.
On Mahalaya (Monday), Megh has been called for ‘chakshu dan’ at the Jodhpur Park Cultural Association, and by the Torpedo Welfare Society, a puja committee based in Howrah district on Tritiya (Friday).
Speaking to The Indian Express, Megh, whose life changed like those of several others from the LGBTQ community after the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, said she was overwhelmed by the gesture. “I am honoured and privileged. It is a big initiative for me and the transgender community as a whole…It is a message that not only men, but women and transgenders can also partake in the ritual. I consider it a big achievement in our lives,” she added.
“The Sonarpur Recreation Club one is my neighbourhood puja. Since childhood, I was scared to visit pandals. Whenever I went, there were always some people who mocked me. Durga Puja was a not a festival of happiness for me. But now I am overwhelmed that the organisers decided to make me brand ambassador. It gives recognition to our struggle and community,” said the lawyer.
Speaking about the Section 377 verdict, she said, “Our struggle for social acceptance will go on.”
After graduating from Hazra Law College under Calcutta University in 2012, Megh joined Alipore court. However, she blamed “apathy from a section of people” for her decision to quit. It was only in 2017, when her friend gave her her first case, that she returned to court. “I won the case, a divorce case in 2018. My first success,” said Megh, who also runs a school for dance.
“Most puja organisers make celebrities, sports stars and other stalwarts their brand ambassadors. But we decided to make her our ambassador this year. She has struggled and has become one of the first transgender lawyers in the country. It is an achievement,” said Rajib Bhuniya, treasurer of the puja committee of Sonarpur Recreation Club.
“We have two messages to convey through our initiative. Firstly, a message of necessity of social acceptance of not only transgenders but all of the LGBTQ community by the mainstream. Secondly, a message to the transgender community that nothing is impossible and anyone of them could become what Megh has become,” he added.
About Megh, Bhuniya said, “She used to confine herself in her house during puja. She struggled and became what she is.”
“We talk a lot about gender equality but the fact is that transgenders are yet to get social recognition in society. They are still looked down upon, hated, criticised and scorned as if they are some kind of scum of the universe. Durga puja is the biggest festival of Bengalis and we have taken the opportunity to use this platform to spread the message,” said president of the committee, Prosenjit Bhattacharya.
Asked if there was any resistance when they had decided to break the age-old norm tradition, Bhattacharya said, “We agreed that we are children of the same ‘Durga Ma’ so why should there be a monopoly of men on painting the eyes of the goddess?”