Manjamma Jogathi is the first transgender person to head the Karnataka Janapada Academy, and is looking to construct a house for herself and her students.

Manjamma Jogathi the first transgender person to head the Karnataka Janapada Academy in a green saree with a red border and red blouse She has the saree pallu over her head and poses with a wide smile
Features Human Interest Sunday, November 29, 2020 - 12:44

When Manjamma was a teenager, her older brother tied her to a pole and beat her until she was close to losing consciousness. “He thought there was a demon inside me. He wanted to rid me of it,” Manjamma says. Born in Kallukamba village in Ballari district, and assigned male at birth, Manjamma has witnessed inconceivable pain due to her identity as a Jogathi – a transgender woman. She recalls how her family tried to “rid” her of her “feminine nature”, and the many ways in which she has been mistreated by society through her life. 

But Manjamma’s story is not that of a victim. From a life of destitution, stigma and myriad horrors, Manjamma Jogathi went on to become the first transgender person to head the Karnataka Janapada Academy. She’s a dancer, a teacher, a celebrated theatre artiste… Despite all these feathers in her cap, Manjamma doesn’t have a roof over her head. 

Manjamma, who lives in Ballari’s Mariyammanahalli, has been running from pillar to post to get funds for a house, ever since the roof of the house she was staying in caved in, back in 2005. She has been trying to obtain funds from the government under its subsidised housing scheme. With no response from the government, Manjamma has now turned to crowdfunding. Three months ago, Shilpa Mudbi, one of her students, told her about Ketto, the crowdfunding platform. With Ketto’s help, she started a crowdfunding campaign on the website. Within three months, she has received Rs 4,86,000. “I have never seen so much money in my life. I used to beg for a living. I am so moved by the love people have shown me,” Manjamma says. 

But the funds are not enough yet to build a house. You can support her cause here.

Early life

Manjamma says that she loved dancing, and dressing up with the girls since she was a child. After trying various other ways to ‘correct’ her, Manjamma’s parents took her to a priest, who told them that she was blessed with the “goddesses shakti”. She says that her brother never spoke to her since that day. In 1985, her parents took her to the Huligeyamma’s temple near Hospet. It was here that she was consecrated as a Jogathi. She assumed the name Manjamma Jogathi and became a part of the community of Jogappas and Jogathis, devotees of goddess Yellamma. Jogathis are transgender persons who are ‘married’ to the goddess. 

“I was given a skirt, blouse and bangles to wear. I remember my mother wailing at the loss of her son. She told me I was dead to her,” Manjamma recounts, and says that she tried to end her life then and was hospitalised. Upon recovery, she left home and began begging for money in Davangere. 

“I didn’t have the strength in me to live and I wanted to end it all. I was sitting at a bus stand in Davangere, when I saw a father teaching his son how to dance while he balanced a metal pot on his head. This was Jogathi Nritya and I was fascinated by it,” Manjamma says. 

Life as a theatre artiste

Manjamma went up to the father, Basappa, and asked him if he would teach her and he agreed immediately. She went every morning to his home and learned Jogathi Nritya. While she began performing Jogathi Nritya for goddess Yellamma, fellow Jogathis introduced her to the folk artist  Kaalavva, from Ballari’s Hagaribommanahalli. She soon began playing small roles in folk plays and went onto become a hit in the folk theatre sphere after her role in the play Renukadevi Charitre. 

“Theatre and dance gave me a reason to continue living,” she says. Manjamma, who is an expert in Jogathi Nritya, has been travelling across the state to conduct workshops and also teach the art form to pupils. 

Manjamma won the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 2010 and her story of resilience is a part of the syllabus for the Bachelor of Arts course at the Karnataka Folk University in Haveri district.

The next step

Manjamma plans to construct a one-storey house in Mariyammanahalli, where she can provide space for her students who need a roof over their heads too. “I also want a space outside, where I can teach Jogathi Nritya to my students. I am 65 years old. I don’t have big dreams. I will be happy with whatever people give me,” Manjamma says. 

From being shunned from her own family to becoming a star in the community of folk artists, Manjamma’s story is one of immeasurable pain, but also one of hope and success. She now needs help to raise more funds to complete constructing the house. The construction began over two months ago and Manjamma says she is hopeful to be able to source money to complete her dream project. 

You can support her dream here

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