How many 21-year-olds do we know who are keen to bring about a difference in the society by actually doing something for people? The country abounds individuals who hail from different backgrounds, and it is imperative that all of them are a part of the process of development. Leaving behind any section of the population is not the best way to bring about progress in any society.
The Logical Indian brings forth the story of Sobhan Mukherjee, a 21-year-old graduate, from Bansdroni, Kolkata who has taken up the responsibility of making toilets for transgenders in his locality.
In an interview with The Logical Indian, Sobhan told us what made him work for a community which faces discrimination on a daily basis.
Sobhan had been brought up in an atmosphere where his parents had inculcated in him the value of serving the community. It is the only way to be of use to the society we are living in, he believes. “My parents have always been an inspiration for me to work for the community, in particular for those who face differential treatment from the ‘normal’ people,” said Sobhan.
Young Sobhan, who is doing his post graduation in Geography, has dedicated a significant time of his life for making toilets for transgenders because he was tired of the apathy that is meted out to the community.
He is also a part of a group of college-going writing enthusiasts called ‘Kobi Kolom’ (Of Poets and Pens). They run a magazine by the same name and each year they arrange a writing competition.
“This year I had written an article on the transgender and the hijra community; about the plight they are subjected to every day and the taboo that the society still holds against them,” Sobhan explained.
It was while researching for the write up that Sobhan came in contact with Ranjita Sinha, a transgender activist and a member of the West Bengal Transgender Board.
Bringing ‘Tridhara’ into action
“While talking to them, I realised that one of the biggest problems they have been facing is the toilets in public places. The pay-and-use toilets do not have any option for the transgenders to use a different washroom other than that of male and female,” said Sobhan. “They face humiliation for something as basic as using toilets – this was something that prompted me to take up this project,” he added.
Sobhan has chosen an apt name for his initiative – he calls them ‘Tridhara’. “For me, Tridhara signifies the third source of power – a force emerging from the unison of the male and the female forces,” he explained.
This plan had struck Sobhan around three months back. At that point of time, he wanted to make his idea known to everyone but it could not be executed. “But later I realised that instead of waiting for people to approve of my thoughts, I should rather approach the local level government seeking their help,” he said.
Sobhan got tremendous support from the local councillor of his ward, Anita Kar Majumder. “She was very excited about the entire plan and asked me to start right away with the four pay-and-use toilets that were there in our locality. This served as a great boost to my morale,” he said.
The first transgender toilet that came up because of Sobhan’s initiative was near the Bansdroni metro station. Four other toilets have come up in nearby areas, under the stewardship of Sobhan viz. Geetanjali, Sonarpur and near Gangapuri School.
“Printing of the placards is mainly done from my pocket money. Otherwise, there is not much monetary help that is required for this project. What is needed is social acceptance,” he clarified.
“Honestly, I have faced queries from many people who did not understand my urge to do something for the transgender community. I did not feel the need to get into a debate with them but I have tried to make them understand the need in my way,” Sobhan said.
Young Sobhan is very enthusiastic about his initiative which is still at a nascent stage. In his words, “I have always wanted to bring smiles to people’s faces; the fact that I am now able to do has made me very happy.”
Where the country stands on the issue of bathrooms for transgenders
In a significant move, the Ministry of Sanitation on 3 April 2017 had issued guidelines to the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) stating that members of the third-gender community be allowed to use public toilet of their choice (men or women).
Under the heading of ‘Inclusivity,’ the statement said that a “conscious effort” should be made to ensure that members of the community are “recognised as equal citizens and users of toilets”.
People from the transgender community have played a significant role in spreading awareness about cleanliness and hygiene.
This is indeed a refreshing and sensible take on the issue particularly in a time when advanced economies, like the USA, is debating about the need for separate bathrooms for transgenders.
The Logical Indian community appreciates the work Sobhan is carrying out in a dedicated but unassuming way. The social responsibility that he has shown is worthy of inspiration to many. We wish him all the best and hope that ‘Tridhara’ bathrooms turn into a norm soon.