Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Full of Love and Hope

Bhumika Shrestha, Nepal’s first transgender politician, talks about her experiences

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Bhumika by Melton Antony; Bhumika with director Nicola Desouza

In the two-minute film, 'I AM: The Transcender', a slim person stands next to a light in a darkened room and says, “I am Bhumika Shrestha. I am a transgender. I am going to be a transgender in my next life. This is not my only identity. I am a Nepali, a Hindu, a sister, a daughter, a politician, an actress, and a human rights activist.”

Bhumika looks attractive, with her doe-shaped eyes, high cheekbones and coiffed hair, an easy smile and with a beaded necklace around her neck. On a recent to Kochi, with the film's director Nicola Desouza, the Kathmandu-based Bhumika says, “When I was seven years old, I began to think and feel like a woman. I put lipstick, used make-up and wore my mom’s sarees. But my family always supported me. They never questioned my behaviour. They felt that since I was a child I was behaving like this. But once I grew up, I would become all right.”

But Bhumika did not. At the Vidya Mandir Higher Secondary School, the students as well as the teachers mocked her. Once the teacher said, “You look like a girl with your long hair. You have to change.” Like most transgenders, she went home and cried. In Class 10, Bhumika was thrown out of school.

There were many times when she felt suicidal. Once, she bought a bottle of sleeping pills. But Bhumika could not go through with it. “I loved life too much,” she says. “But I know of many transgenders who killed themselves.”

Bhumika's life changed, in 2003, when she joined the Blue Diamond Society, which caters to sexual minorities. “I saw many people like me,” she says. “I felt that I belonged. And I finally accepted my sexuality.”

Thereafter, Bhumika did something unusual. She joined the Nepali Congress Party in 2008 and became the first transgender in the country to do so. She wanted to stand for elections and got the go-ahead from the party leaders. Unfortunately, because of a technical glitch she could not contest. In the election form, there were only two genders: male and female. So, she could not identify herself. Nevertheless, she has been fighting for the rights of transgenders. And Bhumika won a significant victory recently.

In January, Nepal became one of the few countries in the world to add a third gender in their passports. Apart from male and female, there is now a category called transgender. (Incidentally, there are three lakh transgenders in Nepal).

But for a long time, Bhumika experienced stress when she travelled abroad. In her passport, she is identified as Kailash Shrestha. Once when she was going to the USA, she had to transit at Doha, the capital of Qatar.

They looked at my photo and stared at me. Then they directed me to the female line,” she says. “I told them that earlier I was a male, now I am a woman. Since it is a Muslim country, they could not understand the meaning of the term, transgender. So, they took me to a separate room and physically checked me. It was only then they understood who I am.” 

Meanwhile, last year, director Nicola saw a film called, 'The Other Nature', by the Kathmandu-based Nani Sahra Walker. It was about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities in Nepal. “There was one shot of Bhumika, wearing a white bridal dress, and dancing at an annual gay event,” says Nicola. “She was dancing wildly. I have never seen anybody dance like this.”

So Nicola contacted Nani. Then she went to Nepal in August, 2014, to see Bhumika. “We spent time with each other,” says Nicola. “She told me about herself and her life. Even though Bhumika has been threatened and harassed and gone through so much, she is full of hope and love. She has no hatred or anger against society.”

So Nicola decided to make a short film on Bhumika. So far, it has been shown at the Script International Film Festival, Kochi, 'Gender Reel' in New York, the Transgender Film Festival in San Francisco, and the British Film Institute Festival on the LGBT community called 'Flare' in London.

Meanwhile, following the massive earthquake, on April 26, at Kathmandu, the Mumbai-based Nicola was stranded in the town of Kirtipur, just 5 kms away. But later, she met up with Bhumika. 

She is okay,” says Nicola, by e-mail. “In fact, I am living with Bhumika and her family in a tent at Kathmandu for the past several days. Unfortunately, Bhumika lost two of her close friends. She is very upset about that. Both of us had gone for the cremation.”

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi)   

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