Somnath Banerjee was raised in Naihati, Paschim Banga (previously West Bengal), an only son with two sisters. He insisted on learning to dance to classical music as Indian girls do.
After school he went to a psychiatrist who told him to forget about being a woman or end up killing himself. He studied hard, obtained first class degrees and became a professor of Bengali literature at Jhargram college.
She was for a while a woman at home, but a man when on the street. Then she was obviously in transition. The other teachers forced her to move out from the professors’ quarters. She was called a hijra and accused of child abuse. She approached the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and they served a show-cause notice on the college. She started a group for Bengali transsexuals, and edits their magazine, Aba-manab (=sub human) so called for "That's what transsexuals are, in other people's eyes".
"I was always effeminate. So, when I was an effeminate man, it seemed that a majority of the people I knew wanted to dismiss me as a 'girl'. The moment they saw me in a woman's body, they suddenly woke up to the gender I was born with and insisted I was a man, of course a grossly aberrant one".
In 2003 she had genital surgery for 5 lakh rupees (=£8,000) after many sessions of counselling. She immediately started wearing a sari and changed her name to to Manabi (=woman) The college authorities wanted to fire her on the grounds that they had hired Samnath, but Manabi won the court case.
She met a Bengali business man and they had a Hindu ritual marriage. Their house was attacked and the landlord tried to lock them out. The police did nothing, and the husband was taken away by his family. In a subsequent court case the state prosecutor tried to argue that that Manabi was a minor in that she had been female for only three years. Manabi was also accused of "sinister and anti-social activities" and of being a witch. She turned to the state women’s commission which complained to the district authorities which in turn warned Manabi’s landlord. Manabi was also beaten up by hijra at an NGO rally when she said things they did not want to hear.
She now has a boyfriend who works in government. She takes care of her aging parents. She has written a bestselling novel, Endless Bondage, about hijras. She is still teaching at Jhargram college, where she is better accepted by the students that by the other teachers.
In May 2015 it was announced that Professor Bannerjee had been appointed head of the Krishnanagar Women’s College in West Bengal.
- “Even my parents have not accepted my transsexual identity”. The Times of India, Mar 18, 2001. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/Even-my-parents-have-not-accepted-my-transsexual-identity/articleshow/34354152.cms.
- “Man changes sex to marry, faces social boycott”. Deccan Herald, July 11, 2004. http://archive.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/july112004/n5.asp.
- Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri. “Can a a 40-year-old transsexual be a three-year-old girl?”. Daily News & Analysis, Feb 17, 2006. www.dnaindia.com/india/report_can-a-40-year-old-transsexual-be-a-three-year-old-girl_1013429.
- Manabi Bannerjee talks to Anthony Dias. “Transgenderism: ‘Society can be cruel’ ”. The Guardian, 14 July, 2009. www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/14/india-gender.
- “From Somnath to Manabi“. Indian Express, Sep 18, 2011. www.indianexpress.com/news/from-somnath-to-manabi/848084/0.
- “Change Over”. Parth Sanyal, photography. www.parthsanyal.com/galleries/change-over.
- "India gets its first transgender college principal". The Hindu, May 27, 2015. www.thehindu.com/news/national/manabi-banerjee-all-set-to-become-indias-first-transgender-college-principal/article7251132.ece.
- Piyasree Dasgupta. "India's first transgender college principal: Here's why you should look up to Manabi Banerjee". FirstPost, May 27, 2015. www.firstpost.com/living/indias-first-transgender-college-principal-heres-why-you-should-look-up-to-manabi-banerjee-2264550.html.