Trans-Verse Bridges of Solidarity: An Evening of Films, Talks and Reaching Out
With a view to trace the contours of the Transgender Movement in West Bengal, the Kolkata Monthly Screenings & Conversations series organised on a monthly basis by People’s Film Collective centered around three films on the subject, namely Diaries of Transformation (Dir: Anirban Ghosh), Dui Dhuranir Golpo/ In-between Days (Dir: Sankha) and Tritiyo Prakriti (Dir: Chitrangada). The programme, held on Saturday evening in the Jogesh Mime Academy auditorium located in the Kalighat area, also had a panel discussion with community activists and academicians as speakers. The organisers had invited a wide cross-section of people which not only included people from the gender queer community, but also youth and a good number of students along with activists and academicians from a wide variety of disciplines.
The programme was initiated by reading out a statement on behalf of the organisers by Anurag Maitrayee. It discussed on the binary construct of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ gender divide in the society, and how anyone identifying beyond this binary archetype is subjected to violent discrimination. It stated further about the historic NALSA judgment of the Supreme Court wherein elaborate directives were given to the Government to offer several civil rights to the ‘Transgender’ community (with ‘transgender’ being understood as a broad umbrella term including trans people and Hijras). It also discussed about certain conflicts in principle and practical difficulties which have arisen in course of implementation of those rights. The statement then moved on to the Transgender Board formed by the Government of West Bengal, and while raising concerns of exclusion of sections of the community, it called for strengthening the Board and making it more effective. It also broached the need for including less privileged sections of the Transgender community in the larger movement. The statement closed with the remark that patriarchy is the common enemy of feminist, LGB and democratic movements, and the various movements need to unite and work in tandem to take forward the anti-gender discrimination fight.
First Film: Tritiyo Prakriti (Chitrangada collective)
This fifteen minutes-long documentary made by student activists highlighted a Durga Pujo celebration by Pratyay Gender Trust, working in collaboration with Udyami Yubak Brinda, which was organised last autumn by transgender people from the area and beyond. It showed how the people from the community sought to reclaim the Pujo more as a celebration, above a merely ritualistic exercise. The community organisers imagined and conceived the Goddess idol in the ‘Ardhnarishwar’ form, a composite androgynous form of the Hindu God Shiva and his companion Parvati. The film juxtaposed the Pujo celebrations with a concurrent act of violence perpetrated by a group of men on a few transwomen while they were travelling on the Kolkata Metro during the same Pujo days. The film recorded narratives of not just that particular incident but that of systematic discrimination and violence they have been subject to since childhood. Irrespective of social status, transgender people were shown speaking about them being violated by their family, the public authorities like the police and common people who saw them as sex objects. The film ended on a celebratory note as these people assert their identity proudly and also share how some of them have been accepted and even admired now by the conventional mainstream.
Second Film: Diaries of Transformation (Anirban Ghosh)
This film had extensive insight into the daily lives of seven Transgender people living in the city, who have to do a variety of activities for survival. It went into real locales and workplaces of these people, and had them sharing their stories of oppression and violence. Those compelled into sex work stated that they are often abused in all manners imaginable by their customers, and they put up with that for the sake of survival. Another protagonist narrated how while working in a NGO, she was molested by certain hooligans and the apathy of the police she faced while attempting to get a redress. The film also explored the travails of their daily lives, as one person, a Hijra, stated that the reason they celebrate the birth of a newborn is because they can never have their own children. It also showed the dichotomy faced by the community as some of them feel trapped in their gender roles assigned by the society, and their longing to discover their actual identities. The film dwelled into the complexities of finding love and how added to the marginalised gender identity, religious, class and caste barriers made relationships difficult. The film further showed certain questions raised as regards the movement being restricted to certain known faces belonging mostly to middle class segments, and the need to disseminate the movement further. The remarkable feat that Anirban Ghosh has achieved through this self-funded low-budget film is that although most of it comprised of the protagonists and their kins and friends talking to the camera, the amount of trust between the filmmaker and his subjects showed in the free manner they opened up their hearts; and in addition the film is beautifully shot, keeping the audience tightly glued to the seats.
The speakers for the evening were: Ani Dutta, activist and assistant professor of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa; Aparna Banerjee, gender activist and hijra activist currently serving on the West Bengal Transgender Development Board; Shyam (Shampa) Ghosh, transman and trans-masculine activist with Amitie Trust based in Howrah and Hooghly districts; and Sumi Das, activist with Moitrisanjog Society based in Coochbehar district. The session was moderated by Raina Roy, transgender rights activist with Sambhabona, Kolkata.
Sumi Das could not be present personally owing to a personal emergency, but she sent her voice message wherein she shared her views on the movement post the ‘NALSA judgement’, the various issues faced by activists working in districts far from the state capital of Kolkata, and the need to organise the community more and do more outreach to make the movement effective.
Ani Dutta shared her view that the newly formed Transgender Development Board does not adequately represent the various sections of the community, and pointed out the loopholes in the process of nomination to the Board. She stated further that the stakeholders were not given enough space for voicing their contentions before the passage of the Transgender Rights Bill which came after the NALSA judgement. Ani raised concern about various aspects of the NALSA judgment and the ensuing bill and the dilemmas they create in implementation, particularly as regards certifying the identity of transgender. Pointing out how ‘transgender’ also embodies a whole fluid spectrum of identities and inhomogeneities of class and caste within it, and speaking strongly on resisting the creation of newer boxes and partitions of identities (of gender and sexuality), hir arguments on fighting instead on all fronts of oppression (including on the basis of class, caste and gender) as a continuous struggle resonated with many young people in the audience.
Aparna Banerjee shared her practical experience on working on the Board and how there are various gaps and inconsistencies in its work. She stated that it does not represent the community adequately, and there exists an apparent lack of sensitivity amongst the officials. She also voiced concern about the discrimination faced at various levels in society and from public officials. She ended her statement on the note that the movement has been very elitist in nature for a long time until recent years and needs to connect to the grassroots and accommodate the more deprived sections to make it truly a success.
Shyam (Shampa) Ghosh shared his real life experiences of being forcibly married to a man, despite identifying as a transman, and the violence and discrimination he faced from his family. He also stated that trans-men are a rarer and largely invisiblised group, and hence less understood and more vulnerable. He ultimately raised a plea not to discriminate any of them, and accord them the minimum respect all human beings deserve.
Third film: Dui Dhuranir Golpo (Sankha)
Shot over eighteen months in a narrative style that blurs boundaries between documentary and fiction, this was a story of Chiranjit and Bubai – two young transgender friends from Kolkata. They had to drop out from school because of their feminine disposition. Hailing from poor and uneducated families, they confronted social castration from a tender age. However, it helped strengthening their bond as friends. They got into sex work at a tender age on advice from their peers in the community. The film showed their lived lives and respective journeys, how both of them joined a nonprofit working with the transgender community and HIV awareness. Gradually Chiranjit got a promotion and moved ahead of Bubai, who on the other hand was left to continue with more exhausting and unsafe work that made the sensitive Bubai vulnerable. Rifts developed in the friendship. The film explored how they ultimately try to reconcile but not quite manage to, while displaying numerous aspects of the daily lives, convolutions, and difficult loves.
Despite a torrential downpour for most part of the day, the programme was attended by close to two hundred people, who braved the adverse weather for the show. There were Q&A sessions in between the screenings and the panel discussion, where the audience extensively questioned the speakers as well as the filmmakers, generating rich conversations about the subject. Most people in the audience put donations in the contribution box kept outside the auditorium, and many browsed through books, reports and documentary film discs available in the makeshift stall. The event ended on high energy and with a visible resolve to take the learning forward.
Report by Anupam Sircar.
Featured Image: People’s Film Collective