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Devotees throng Kamakhya temple at Nilachal Hills in Guwahati during the annual Ambubachi Mela
Devotees throng Kamakhya temple at Nilachal Hills in Guwahati during the annual Ambubachi Mela|EastMojo image
ASSAM

Why did Assam transgenders feel left out at Ambubachi Mela?

Members of third sex invited for the first time at annual religious congregation held at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati but absence of representation from state irks locals

Sandeep Borah

Sandeep Borah

Mukut Medhi

Guwahati: Breaking the traditional and conventional barrier, probably for the first time in history, devotees from the Kinnar Akharas representing the transgender community in the country performed puja at the recent Ambubachi Mela held in Guwahati, Assam.

While it was a matter of great pride for the community, the local transgender persons felt left out for not being “invited” by the state government, especially chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, to attend the four-day religious congregation held at the Kamakhya temple atop Nilachal Hills in Guwahati.

This comes at a time when four Kinnar Akharas (traditional groups) were “invited” to attend the fair, complained the local transgender community in Assam.

According to the local transgender persons, apart from making special seating arrangements, that too next to CM Sonowal during the inaugural ceremony of the Ambubachi Mela, for the religious leader of a Kinnar Akhara -- Maa Bhawani or Bhawani Nath Valmiki -- these transgender persons were reportedly offered “warm welcome” by the organising community of the festival.

Raising concern over the alleged negligence of the state government towards the local transgender community, Swati Bidhan Baruah, founder and president of All Assam Transgender Association, said that it was not the first time that the state government has ignored the native members of the community.

“We are the natives of Assam and we were never been invited for any function, programme or event by the government. Whereas, transgenders from other states are receiving privileges at Ambubachi Mela which has deeply hurt our emotions,” Baruah said.

Seeking an apology from the chief minister of state for such a move, Baruah, who is also an advocate by profession, demanded that the native transgenders of Assam should be allowed to go and worship in the shrine on the day when the temple door will be opened on July 26.

“I have been invited by different state government of the country to attend various programmes on numerous occasions. But, what I have noticed that locals or the domicile of every state always receive the first priority,” she said.

Swati Bidhan Baruah, president of All Assam Transgender Association, criticises the state government for its alleged negligence to Assam transgenders during the Ambubachi Mela
Swati Bidhan Baruah, president of All Assam Transgender Association, criticises the state government for its alleged negligence to Assam transgenders during the Ambubachi Mela
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Expressing serious concern over the issue, the founding president of the Assam transgender community has also threatened to move the apex court of the country demanding first preference to the community in Assam in such occasions. “If the state government continues with such kind of activities in future, we will have no other options left but to move the Supreme Court . It is an infringement of the fundamental rights,” she said.

Taking about the practice of Akharas, Baruah further said that according to the Dayabhaga school of religion of Hindu mythology, states like West Bengal and Northeast India don’t follow the Akhara system of worshiping.

“Akharas or any such kind of religious practices are followed in other states of the country which follow the Mitakshara school of Hindu religion,” she informed

While throwing light on the activities carried out by the non-native transgenders coming to the state for the annual Ambubachi Mela, Baruah said that a few members of that community were caught red-handed by locals while begging and doing unlawful activities other than religious practices.

“If any transgender, coming from other states to perform any kind of religious or other activities, he or she should seek permission from the leaders of the state transgenders for the same,” she said.

In a maiden time attempt to break the barrier for religious performances at the Kamakhya shrine, transgender members of the ‘Kinnar Akhara’ performed Kumari Puja at the temple during the ongoing Ambubachi Mela atop Nilachal hill in Guwahati.

Speaking about their decision to perform Akhara at the Ambubachi Mela, North India “mahamandaleshwar” (head) of the Kinnar Akhara -- Maa Bhawani or Bhawani Nath Valmiki -- informed that Juna Akhara, one of the oldest akharas of the country, recognised and allowed them to be a part of the ‘Shahi Snan’ in Kumbh Mela held at Prayagraj of Uttar Ptradesh this year.

“We have been visiting Kamakhya shrine for the last three years and members of our Kinnar Samaj have been carrying out rituals since then. However, we were not open to the Sanatan Samaj,” she expressed.

North India Mahamandaleshwar (head) of the Kinnar Akhara, Maa  Bhawani Nath Valmiki
North India Mahamandaleshwar (head) of the Kinnar Akhara, Maa Bhawani Nath Valmiki
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When asked about the facilities provided to them by the organising committee of the Ambubachi Mela, Maa Bhawani Nath Valmiki informed that she has been enjoying all general provisions provided by the state government to the general public.

“I didn’t seek for any special protection from the state government,” she added.

Taking about the special privilege of sitting beside the state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal during the inaugural ceremony of Ambubachi Mela, Maa Bhawani informed that she attended the inaugural function just like other religious leaders and saints were invited to grace the occasion.

Speaking on the misunderstanding prevailing among the native transgenders of the state about the special arrangements given to them, the Kinnar Samaj leader expressed that they have come to the temple only for devotion and worship and it should not be misconceived as everyone is welcome to pay religious tribute in the temple.

“We, the members of the Kinnar Samaj are performing religious activities at the shrine and seeking blessings for well beings of the mankind,” she expressed.

Clarifying that members of the Kinnar Samaj are at the temple to perform religious rituals, Maa Bhawani said that she will be held responsible if any member of the community is found in associating with other works, except religious activities.

“This Kinnar Akhara is just to worship Maa Kamakhya with devotion and respect. We don’t want anyone to look our religious performances in a different way,” the Mahamandaleshwar appealed.

Maa Bhavani was the first transgender candidate who unsuccessfully contested the recently concluded Lok Sabha election from Prayagraj constituency of Uttar Pradesh on an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket.

Non-native transgender persons (‘kinnars’) at Kamakhya shrine in Guwahati during the annual Ambubachi Mela
Non-native transgender persons (‘kinnars’) at Kamakhya shrine in Guwahati during the annual Ambubachi Mela
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