Anup Dutta/ File Photo
As the countdown begins for next month's Simhasth Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, a fierce battle has broken out between kinnars (a transgender community), sants, ascetics and yogis, over the privilege of taking part in the Shahi Snan (royal holy bath).
For probably the first time in history, kinnars have formed an akhara (a religious organisation of a group of ascetics or a sect), and are vying for the right to take the holy dip just like 13 other akharas linked to the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP).
The usual practice is that before the Kumbh mela, the Divisional Commissioner of Ujjain allocates land to the 13 akhars. Thus, on the days of the Shahi Snan, sages from the different akharas get the privilege of taking the first bath in the sacred river (or confluence of rivers).
Simhastha 2016 begins on 22 April and continues till 21 May. The Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith, that is held once every 12 years.
In December last year, representatives of kinnar groups from 22 states came together to form an akhara, with the purpose of taking part in the Shahi Snan at Simhasth 2016.
During a two-day meeting at village Hasampura in Ujjain district in January, the Kinnar Akhara came into existence, and quickly approached the Simhasth Mela Samiti, the local administration, and demanded a piece of land and facilities that are being given to the other 13 akharas under the ABAP.
Recently, the administration allotted five acres of land to the Kinnar Akhara, where work to accommodate thousands of kinnars is now in full swing. The Akhara is expecting a footfall of one lakh kinnars during the Simhasth Kumbh.
However, as expected, these developments have not gone down well with ABAP members. The 13 member akharas of the ABAP are opposing the right of the kinnars to participate in the Shahi Snan, and the body itself has refused to recognise the Kinnar Akhara.
However, members of the Kinnar Akhara are undeterred.
"We have got a piece of land where construction work to accommodate our members is in full swing. . However, we are not getting civic facilities from the mela administration that the other 13 akharas are getting," said Rishi Ajay Das, convenor of the Kinnar Akhara.
Das added: "We (kinnars) are the original Ram bhakts, and do not require permission or recognition from the ABAP to participate in the Shahi Snan."
Das is referring to a story in the Ramayana. When Ram was banished to the forest, he urged all men and women followers to go home. Belonging to neither 'category', transgender people waited 14 years for his return. And when Ram returned, he found them waiting on the banks of the Saryu in Ayodhya. Deeply moved by their devotion, Ram blessed the outcasts.
Madhya Pradesh is the only state in the country where transgender people have won elections and been successful politicians. Shabnam Mausi was the trailblazer, when she became an Independent MLA from the Suhagpur seat in 1998. Mausi made an impact on the Assembly as a powerful legislator, who often questioned Digvijaya Singh's Congress government.
Mausi's electoral success paved way for others like Kamala Jaan, who was elected mayor of Katni town, near Jabalpur. Then, in December 2009, Kamla Bua was elected mayor of the Sagar Municipal Corporation. In both these cases, the leaders were unseated on technical grounds, since the Supreme Court had not yet recognised the third gender.
Bua is the head of the Kinnar Akhara, while another prominent transgender activist, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, is one of its prominent core-committee members. Tripathi is the first transgender person to represent the Asia Pacific region at the United Nations.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch: