Nepal’s transgenders make a political mark (Feature with images)

March 7th, 2010 - 2:36 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 7 (IANS) Bhumika Shrestha, who became the first Miss Pink Nepal, is an icon of the transgender community. And she is also its first member to take the plunge into politics.

The 23-year-old last month formally became a member of the Nepali Congress (NC), the largest party in the ruling coalition. “Politicians have the power to make an effective change in society,” Bhumika said.

When Nepal underwent a sea change in 2006 to become a secular state from the only Hindu kingdom in the world, the transformation was further heightened by the first Miss Gay pageant in a country that ostracised its homosexual community.

Much has happened since then.

“I joined politics to get a platform for my people. Politicians realise they can’t ignore us. In the last elections, all the major parties included the sexual minorities in their election manifestos,” Bhumika told IANS in an interview.

She remembers how she was thrown out of school as a 10th grader for her “womanish ways”.

“I was about 10 when I realised I was different from others,” says Bhumika, who chose the name when she decided to carve out a new identity for herself as a woman. “I preferred the company of girls and wanted to wear their clothes.”

She was taunted mercilessly by the boys in school and was expelled after teachers thought she was corrupting the morals of other students.

Hurt and humiliated, she was wondering what she would do with her life when someone told her about Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s first organisation to protect the rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders.

“It was a huge relief,” she says. “I realised I was no longer alone. There were others like me.”

Today, Bhumika is a human rights officer in BDS and a well-known face in society, courtesy the limelight she received after being crowned Miss Pink and for taking part in public programmes seeking equal rights for the gay community.

Now she has chosen the Nepali Congress because she says she is inspired by the “democratic and socialist” philosophy of its founder, B.P. Koirala, who was also the first elected prime minister of Nepal.

She is also inspired by the thoughts and life of Mahatma Gandhi and Nepal’s freedom fighter Ganesh Man Singh, who strove for equality for women.

Bhumika has taken part in several interactions with Nepal’s lawmakers who are writing a new constitution where she has advocated equality for her community.

Though BDS’ founder Sunil Babu Pant is Nepal’s only openly gay MP, Bhumika and the others have had a tougher struggle gaining acceptance.

They are school dropouts while Pant is a computer engineer educated abroad and while he dresses in the accepted male way, they have chosen a sexual identity different from the one they were born with.

Suman Chepang, 20, was thrown out of school in Chitwan in southern Nepal for refusing to wear the uniform prescribed for girl students.

“For several years, I tied a stone to my heart and suppressed my natural inclinations, trying to look, dress and act like a woman,” says Suman who has now opted for a male identity. “But at the end, my heart revolted.”

Suman too was ostracised by society and when he decided to marry 23-year-old Bishnumaya, the bride’s family refused to accept him.

“There has to be a change in society,” says Suman, who has joined the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist with his wife and five others. “We decided to join different political parties so that it would be easier to usher in change.”

Suman says he chose the Communist party because he was profoundly moved by the life of its late secretary general Madan Kumar Bhandari.

“Here was a man who strove to uplift society,” he says. “Had Bhandari not died at such an early age, he would have transformed Nepal.”

A third group now wants to join the Maoists.

“It is the Maoists whose 10-year People’s War gave a voice to the downtrodden,” says a transgender who declines to be named. “It was the Maoist government that made the first budget allocation for sexual minorities and formed a committee to make regulations for same sex marriages.”

However, what is holding the group back is that the Maoists, despite their promises, have not been encouraging towards the community.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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