Joy Mitra Street, an otherwise nondescript neighbourhood in Kolkata, recently made news for being the venue of the first transgender Durga Puja in the country which will be celebrated this year.
The Sarbojonin (Communal/ Public) Durga Puja is being organised by members of Koti, Hijda and other communities of transgender women, and presented by Pratyay Gender Trust in collaboration with Joy Mitra Street Udyami Yubak Brinda, a local Puja Committee.
The idol has been modelled on the concept of 'Ardhanarishwar'- half man-half woman. "Shiva and Durga - the masculine and the feminine in the same body.... however within the traditional Ek Chala (Potol Chera Chokh, Khaash Mukh, Ghora Simha) style familiar in Bengal. The idea was to explore the gendered lines keeping within the traditional framework," the group said in a statement.
Thanks to the media coverage and the power of social media, the initiative has been garnering praises aplenty.
"The response has been encouraging so far, but we are waiting for the inauguration to gauge public reaction," says Bhanu Naskar of the Pratyay Trust.
Initially, a few local boys did object to the idea of transgender women organising the puja. Naskar says the boys thought that the group wanted to organise the puja single-handedly. But it was a misunderstanding which was later sorted out.
"We are organising the puja along with the Udyami Yubak Brinda. We donâ€™t want to do this alone. We have been alone for long. We want the public to join us. So that we can celebrate together," Naskar says.
The Durga idol has been conceptualised by China Pal, who is said to be the only woman artist in Kumortuli, the traditional potters' quarter in Kolkata. Several other tasks including decoration of the pandal (marquee) and collection of subscriptions will be performed by transgender women.
The inauguration of the pandal will take place on Sunday, but Naskar says hordes of college students have been flooding the venue and even taking pictures in front of it. "They said they will return here after the inauguration," Naskar says.
"Organising during Durga Puja is very often the domain of men - usually upper class and upper caste - decision making is often their domain. Therefore it becomes important for a minority community - minority due to their gender identity as well as their social class and caste - to reclaim this space, as have many other marginalised communities such as sex workers in the past," the group said.
Anindya Hajra, Founder Member, Pratyay Gender Trust, said, "Beyond the religious aspect, Durga Puja has great social significance, and it has immense socio-cultural economic importance - To stake a claim in this space by those traditionally marginalised such as transgender women is really an attempt to historically engage with this claim of 'inclusivity' to understand whether the social space can become truly 'Sarbojonin'."