Independent candidate Madhu Kinnar’s victory of Chhatisgarh’s Raigarh Municipal Corporation seat, against a BJP candidate moreover, accorded her the much coveted status of becoming India’s first openly transgender mayor. And we say openly transgender because what we weren’t aware of at the time of publishing Making History: Madhu Kinnar Just Became India’s First Transgender Mayor is that there have, in fact, been mayors belonging to the LGBT community before, who have done some great work but whose terms have been nullified in the past; plus, the fact that the Supreme Court only officially recognised them as a third gender in 2014 is another important factor in play.
Once we’d realised our folly, we decided to dig a little deeper to unearth more about who these individuals were, and what their stories had been like. The previous year heralded much good news by way of PSAs and innovative advertising, refreshing visual documentation by creative professionals and so many more basic human rights accorded to the community at last, and the Supreme Court’s decision also provides them with many special reservations, admission in educational institutions, as well as public appointments.
Even as we rejoice at the boost the LGBT community is receiving slowly and steadily, here are the mayors belonging to the community who were before their time, and were egregiously ousted on the basis of their gender identity.
I. Kamla Jaan (1954 – )
“No car, no house, Kamla belongs to everyone!” was one of Kamla Jaan’s campaign slogans that caught on famously.
Kamla, despite being illiterate, won 28 of 45 wards, and came out 1,897 votes ahead to celebration rallies of thousands in the wake of her victory. Elected mayor of Katni, Madhya Pradesh in 1999, she succeeded in renovating the main bus stop, fixing drainage systems and sinking new tube wells.
‘’Voters seem to trust us,’’ Mayor Jaan, then 46, said of eunuchs. ‘’We act only for the welfare of the people. We are not corrupt.’’
What started off as ‘absurd political theatre’ – electing a eunuch as a rebuff to other political parties – evolved to be a great decision for local politics, with Kamla taking on the public office with enthusiasm, even letting the advisory council know that they weren’t needed, shushing and berating their consequent protests in a thoroughly unruffled manner.
Amongst others in the community who came to occupy a public office around this time is Meena Bai, who became president of the Sehora town municipality and five eunuchs from other cities and towns, including with Shabnam Mausi who stepped into the role of a state legislator, elected from the Sohagpur constituency of Shahdol district. In 2001, Uttar Pradesh too elected three more queer individuals to public offices.
”It is an unhappy life, knocking on people’s doors, begging for crumbs,’’
said Heera Bai, guru to 20 hijra disciples. She was elected to the city council in Jabalpur. ‘’Opportunities are closed to us and most are not as educated as I am’’ she said. ‘’We leave our families at a young age and live together because no one else would want us.’’
After two and a half years of ruling with an iron hand, in 2003, an additional Sessions judge of a Court in Katni ruled that Kamla was a man, and had no right to occupy a seat reserved for a female candidate as a part of the quota system.
Advocate Alka Jain, who lost the election to Kamla, had petitioned challenging Kamla Jaan’s gender, stating that since Kamla was a eunch, she as not born a girl, referring to several medical books to cement her position. She also said that Kamla had first registered herself in the electoral rolls as a male, but made changes later.
Regardless of her dismissal, Kamla Jaan proved beyond doubt that her gender identity eventually was completely unrelated to the leadership skills she possessed and the positive societal change she wanted to implement.
II. Asha Devi (1952 – 2013)
“To beat the drum is better than being a mayor.”
The turn of the 21st century was shaping up to be a progressive cork-popper to the millennium, with Asha Devi running for the post of mayor in Gorakhpur, eastern Uttar Pradesh, in 2000, adding impetus to the political ambition of the community. The Election Commission was of the opinion that her sex was to be decided by how she was enrolled in the voters’ list.
Asha Devi, born Amarnath Yadav, was the youngest of three sisters and four brothers and was abandoned by her parents, only to be taken in by Hijra Samaj, where she took on her name.
Despite being semi-literate, Asha Devi won over one lakh (1,09,849) votes when she ran for the post of mayor in 2000. Her tenure involved a special focus on civic issues such as the construction of roads and drainage. Unfortunately, her post was declared invalid in May 2003 on the grounds that it was reserved for females, in response to a petition from Anju Chowdhary, the candidate from Samajwadi Party who had come second to her, falling short by 60, 000 votes.
”Asha Devi alias Amarnath was not a female but a male and since the post of the mayor was reserved for a female, Asha Devi was not eligible for the seat,”
special judge A N Upadhyaya said, dismissing Asha Devi of the post she had earned.
III. Kamla Kinnar (1954 – )
Kamla Kinnar’s fate was unfortunately very similar to her namesake Kamla Jaan’s. Winning the mayoral election in 2009 as an independent candidate for the seat for women belonging to the Scheduled Class category, she defeated the BJP candidate Suman Ahirwar with a margin of over 43, 000 votes in Sagar district. History repeated itself in Madhya Pradesh, though, as the court declared Kamala Kinnar’s election as “null and void” because the mayor’s seat was reserved for a ‘woman’ belonging to scheduled caste category, and thus she was asked to step down.
“Though the court has nullified Kamla`s election, it failed to address the basic issue as to what category these persons belong to and from where they can contest elections --seats reserved for men or for women,” Prof Ayub Khan from Government Maharani Laxmi Bai College of Excellence, Gwalior, who has studied the subject at length, said.
IV. Madhu Kinnar (1979 – )
An election official stated that independent candidate Madhu Kinnar (born Naresh Chauhan) won the election by 4,537 votes against BJP’s Mahaveer Guruji. A 35-year-old belonging to the Dalit community, Kinnar studied up to the eighth standard and then went down a common route for transgenders, earning money by singing and dancing for entertainment in trains, ultimately spending “only 60,0000- 70,0000 of the overall earnings on the campaign.”
Raigarh district Congress president, Narendra Negi, believes the poll’s outcome also demarcates the absence of a ‘Modi wave’ in Raigarh. “People of Raigarh were fed up with the corruption of BJP, hence they voted for Madhu.” In true Congress style, the main opposition party maintained that the win was “BJP’s loss, not Madhu’s win.”
Post winning the election, Kinnar was immensely grateful to those who supported her. “People have shown faith in me. I consider this win as the love and blessings of people for me and i’ll out in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams.”
Regardless, this is still a major milestone in our country’s colourful political history and not one that should be taken lightly. It depicts a clear widening of perspectives as far as voters’ mentality goes and the small city of Raigarh has become a key stepping stone in the LGBT community’s fight for equality.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari