India: Transgender Duo Came Ever-So Close to Contesting West Bengal Elections

Masuma Parveen
Kolkata, India
160506-IN-transgender-candidate-620.jpg Sankari Mondal, a transgender woman shown in an undated photo in Jadavpur, West Bengal, dropped her bid for a state assembly seat in West Bengal.
Courtesy Sankari Mondal

Sankari Mondal had hoped to create history when she decided in March to seek office in West Bengal’s state assembly elections, which ended Thursday.

Mondal and Bobby Halder, another transgender, were being touted as the first ever third-gender electoral candidates in West Bengal.

But days before Mondal was to challenge political heavyweights in the Jadavpur constituency on April 30, including Manish Gupta of the state’s ruling All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) party and Sujan Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M),  the 31-year-old transgender backed out.

Halder, 39, who planned to challenge Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Bhawanipur, also dropped out at the last minute.

“It was a personal decision. I just did not feel like pushing it anymore,” Mondal told BenarNews, saying she was aware that she had stopped short of making political history.

Halder declined comment.

But Mira Chakraborty, state president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which fielded both candidates, said the duo dropped out of the elections out of fear that the ruling party would attack them.

“There was immense pressure on Sankari and Bobby from the goons of Trinamool Congress. They were so afraid that they not only decided to abstain, but also could not muster the courage to register a complaint with the State Election Commission,” Chakraborty told BenarNews.

Widespread violence

The West Bengal assembly elections, which kicked off April 4, were held in six phases owing to a long history of poll-related violence in the state, Kolkata-based historian Syamal Sengupta said.

The results of the election will be announced on May 19.

“Tamil Nadu state, which is comparable to West Bengal in size and number of constituencies, will conduct its polls in a single day [on May 16], as will Kerala. But voting in West Bengal was divided into six phases. This itself tells the story of West Bengal,” Sengupta told BenarNews.

As of Thursday, the last day of voting, the death toll in the state since the election was announced on March 4 stood at 18, according to data collected from news reports.

Dukhiram Dal, 57, and Sheikh Fazal Haque, 58, both activists of the CPI-M party, were hacked to death shortly after polling ended in the Khandaghosh constituency of Burdwan district on April 21.

A day later, Congress party worker Kandekar Ali was beaten to death in the same district after he protested against voting irregularities.

Chief Minister Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party has been blamed for allegedly ordering these killings and string of other violent crimes statewide during the election period.

“[AITC] is doing this out of frustration. But they won’t be able to win by using violence. We are arranging processions all over the state against this violence and we will fight it in a democratic way,” CPI-M’s Jadavpur candidate Sujan Chakraborty said.

Reacting to allegations that the Lok Janshakti Party’s transgender candidates dropped out of the election because of threats from the ruling party, AITC state president Subrata Bakshi told BenarNews: “If anyone faced any problem filing their nominations, they should have approached the election commission. Please check with the commission if the concerned individuals filed any [complaints].”

‘Bold social message’

LJP president Chakraborty said the decision to field transgender candidates was made to emphasize her party’s commitment to stand by socially marginalized people.

With only about 800 transgender people on West Bengal’s electoral rolls among the state’s voting population of nearly 65 million, Chakraborty conceded that Mondal and Halder had “absolutely no chance of winning.”

“But had they contested, it would have sent out a bold social message,” she said.

However, Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first openly transgender university chancellor from West Bengal, said the LJP was using the third-gender community to gain political mileage.

“One needs to have a certain level of education and awareness to represent a mass of people. Do they [Mondal and Halder] have such qualifications? Do they even understand the onus that was put on their shoulders? I’d say, they were being used by a certain political party,” Bandyopadhyay told BenarNews.

Mondal acknowledged that her knowledge of politics was minimal.

“I came in touch with Mira Chakraborty less than a year ago through a common acquaintance. She suggested that I should contest the polls on their party ticket. I obliged,” Mondal said.

“No one from my family was happy about my decision. They were apprehensive that it will only lead to further humiliation. My party colleagues were cordial to me, but I didn’t do much party work,” she said.

Mondal added that she was happy with her decision to back out this year, but did not rule out the possibility of running again in the future.

“You never know. I may decide to contest. I’ll think about it when another opportunity comes my way,” she said.


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