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  • Writer's pictureReshma Jain

India's first transgender Kathak performer

She was born as a ‘male’. From a very young age, she did not identify with the gender assigned at birth. She felt trapped in a male body. She had qualities traditionally ascribed to women and loved doing everything a girl ‘normally’ does. Unfortunately, her family taunted her and her parents felt ashamed of giving birth to such a child. While friends bullied her, society awarded her with countless titles. What next?

She was raped, not once, but several times by her cousins. She was attacked, abused, harassed, bullied, and was considered taboo. Life was more of misery, hardships, and adversities. Not being able to cope with the stigma attached to the transgender community, she attempted suicide. However, destiny had different plans for her and she says that God gave her a new lease of life to prove to the world that ‘Gender, is, after all, just gender.’

Well, we are speaking about 30-year-old Devendra S Manglamukhi, India's first transgender kathak performer and teacher who has been a member of the Rajasthan Transgender welfare board. From bullying, harassment, and difficulties to a successful and renowned performer who made India proud.

At the tender age of six, Manglamukhi embraced femininity by wearing frocks and make-up. She loved painting, dancing, singing, artwork, etc. With no support from family and society, Manglamukhi was left to fend for herself from the age of 14. Not knowing what to do, Manglamukhi, like other transgenders became a sex worker and also started begging for money on trains.

Manglamukhi was a brilliant student in her school and was active in all the extra-curricular activities. Having a penchant for dance, Manglamukhi completed her graduation and went ahead to chase her dreams. She went to Lucknow for learning Kathak in one of the renowned Kathak Kendra. Although she performed very well, the other dancers bullied her. There was a lot of discrimination but Manglamukhi did not let this deter her passion. However, she could not continue her course as she was asked to leave the institution as they do not teach ‘Hijras’. Heights of discrimination!

An incident that Manglamukhi shared was shocking. Someone had poured tarpaulin oil on the floor so that she slips and falls. “I slipped and broke my leg. It took a lot of time to recover. But it was a life lesson I learned and it gave me more strength to continue dancing. After having learned Kathak for a year in Lucknow, I came back and learned the nuances of Kathak all by myself,” stated Manglamukhi who later bagged a National award by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with Sanskar Bharti.

She went on to share her horrifying experiences as a child and a teenager. “My family was going to a wedding and I was stopped by my cousin. He lured me to a room by promising to give me a Cadbury chocolate. He raped, abused, and blackmailed me. I cried and shouted but to no avail. Instead, when I informed my family, they said that I was at fault.

‘Who told you to dress up and behave like a girl? Are you not attracting their attention?’, they asked. ‘Wear a shirt and pants and nothing of this sort shall happen’, said my family members. I was speechless and this incident led to sleepless nights. There was nobody with whom I could share or express my emotions,” shared Manglamuki adding that her cousins misbehaved with her several times.

Being India's first transgender artist, Manglamukhi has performed in prestigious festivals in India and abroad. “One impact I would like to see is in the mindset of people to consider us as human first and not to judge based on gender. All are equal and there should be no discrimination or stigma based on gender. We should also be included in the mainstream and should be given equal opportunities,” said Manglamukhi who is teaching free classical Kathak dance to transgender students.

In an effort to provide a platform and make people from the LGBTQ community independent, Manglamukhi’s future plan is to open a dance school exclusively for the community. “From vocal music, and instrumental music to drama, I want to open this school dedicated to art and culture,” concluded Manglamukhi who has been arranging and distributing rations to the LGBTQ community during the lockdown.

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