The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A pageant for the third sex

Animation artist Sarnendu, alias Reema, saw his dream come true as he walked the ramp.

Sujoy Debnath secretly borrowed his mother’s sari to participate in a beauty contest with a difference.

It was not just Sujoy and Reema who seized the opportunity to express their transgender identities in a public forum. Over 39 contestants from the city and its surroundings gathered in Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre on Sunday to participate in eastern India’s first beauty contest for transgender people, hijras and kothis.

The Calcutta Chapter of the Miss India (Kinnar) Beauty contest was organised by Manas Bangla, a statewide network of organisations working with marginalised males, and Kolkata Rista, in collaboration with Bhojiwood Films, New Delhi.

“The aim is to provide people not conforming to traditional gender labels with a platform to express themselves freely,” said Anis Ray Chaudhuri, the treasurer and director of programmes, Manas Bangla.

The contest bore the stamp of the participants’ fight against marginalisation they face at home and outside because of their gender non-conformity and/or non-conventional sexual preferences. One of the contestants, Suman, summed up the spirit of the competition, saying: “We want to prove that we are not less than anyone in any way.”

“We want people to accept us the way we are,” asserted Debnath.

The contest had two rounds. In the first round, the participants were asked to introduce themselves, after which the judges questioned them. The second round saw the contestants put up performances of their choice.

The winners will participate in the national contest, to be held in Delhi later this month. The participants and organisers feel the event will boost the battle for empowerment that the transgender people have been waging for long, often unnoticed.

“Most transgender people are constantly harassed — sexually, physically and emotionally — and they get dehumanised. This platform is a step towards bringing them into the mainstream and empowering them,” said Anis.

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