It has been one year and Sapna Debnath (originally Sapan Debnath) is no more afraid of going out alone. She takes pride in her identity. Being a transgender, after all, is not something to shy away from anymore in Dinajpur, West Bengal.
The credit for this fiercely fought and achieved liberty goes to the Dinajpur Notun Aalo Society (DNAS) and its founder Joyita Mondal. DNAS works primarily for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) community in the Dinjapur area and envisions a society where everyone, regardless of their gender or sexuality, is able to access all social and economic opportunities necessary for their wellbeing. Joyita, a transgender herself, understood the stigma and difficulties which incessantly haunted her, every single moment of her life. She decided to break this shameless shell of stigma and began working for the development of many like her. She began her journey as a field worker, while her association with ‘Manash Bangla’ that works for the same issue, in Siliguri. She then moved to Dinajpur, a region where a majority of the population is Muslim. It was here that she witnessed the atrocities faced by those individuals, whose sexual preferences ignited a fire amongst the deeply entrenched orthodox population of that region. Men and women there diverted irreparable damages, both mental and physical, to the sexually different.
Witnessing the horror herself, Joyita sowed the seeds for DNAS. Their work aligns with their vision statement for the upliftment of the LGBTQ community in that area. DNAS achieved this by following the ground up model. Starting their associations with the lowest rung of government bodies, DNAS associated every government body in the region to help get recognition for transgenders, so as to get them their social and economic entitlements like Aadhar, Ration Cards and government jobs. Linking their understanding of the issue with the 3 youth groups, they started a dialogue on the issue of Homosexuality amongst the youth there. Currently, they have 93 support groups who work on the issues of Hijras, Transgenders and homosexuals. Till date, they have conducted 107 sensitization meetings done with 993 stakeholders such as PRI, Police, Schools, College , GRP, RPF, DLSA, Lawyers, political leaders, STI counsellors, ICTC staff, ART counsellor, link workers, other HCPs, clerics, teachers, students, NGO workers, local club member, and media.
Apart from working for the LGBTQ communities, Joyita and her team have also set up an old age home that takes in those sex workers who have been struck by the ravages of senility and have no place to go. The DNAS had also initiated projects like project ‘Pehchaan’ and others which included a large number of stakeholders; awareness programs have been carried out in schools, colleges and elsewhere to reach out to the mass. Their main objective, however, has been to get the people of these communities into the mainstream, by portraying that any specific profession should only be proffered upon by an individual’s talent and not on their sexual preferences or sexuality.
“Although we still have a long way to go but the efforts are indeed shining a light of support from the society on the LGBTQ issues. An example like that of Manabi Bandhopadhyay, the first transgender principal of the Krishnanagar College, reaffirms our belief that our community is finally getting recognized by the society as normal individuals.”, proclaimed a proud Joyita.
Joyita’s work has been rewarded by many organizations. Recently, in October 2016, she was declared a Changelooms Fellow, conferred upon by the Delhi based organization Pravah. She was also declared a national youth leader by NACO. But Joyita still underestimates her efforts. She believes that her work would be done only when the society breaks down the stigmas and recognizes everyone, regardless of their gender or sexual preferences, as a normal human being.
This story has been published in collaboration with MASH Project.
SHRIJA GANGULY | TOC
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