India’s ‘first Kinnar sarpanch’ now in Lok Sabha fray from Madhya Pradesh

Durga Bai Majhwar has been a sarpanch since 2014, and was also elected to the zilla panchayat; she is contesting the Damoh seat, seeking to replicate the success of India’s first Kinnar MLA from M.P.

Updated - April 24, 2024 08:08 pm IST

Published - April 24, 2024 07:42 pm IST - KATNI

Durga Bai Majhwar who is contesting from the Damoh Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, dressed up as goddess Durga for a ritual at Maa Sharda Temple in Maihar on the occasion of Navmi.

Durga Bai Majhwar who is contesting from the Damoh Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, dressed up as goddess Durga for a ritual at Maa Sharda Temple in Maihar on the occasion of Navmi. | Photo Credit: A.M. FARUQUI

The rituals of Navmi, the last day of the nine-day Hindu festival of Navratri, have just gotten over at her home in Kanhwara village in Madhya Pradesh’s Katni district, and Durga Bai Majhwar — better known as Durga Mausi — is dressed up as the goddess she is named after, ready for a performance at the famous Maa Sharda Temple in neighbouring Maihar. 

She has taken a day off from the month-long campaign, criss-crossing her constituency on her trusty Scooty.

Ms. Majhwar, 36, who claims to be India’s first sarpanch (village head) from the transgender or Kinnar community, is now in the fray as an Independent Lok Sabha candidate from M.P.’s Damoh constituency. She will face off against the BJP’s Rahul Lodhi and the Congress’ Sarwar Singh Lodhi, already having converted the fierce Lodhi vs Lodhi duel into a triangular contest. 

Grassroots poll success

Elected sarpanch of her village in 2014, she says that the people had convinced her to contest the poll as they “were tired of many problems in the village”. She remained sarpanch for more than seven years as her tenure was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, she also contested for a seat in the Katni zilla panchayat and currently serves as one of the members of the district council

Ms. Majhwar is also a sage, seated as the mahamandaleshwar of a Kinnar Akhara.

She is not the first person from the transgender community in M.P. to have achieved electoral success, as the State also gave India its first Kinnar MLA when Shabnam Mausi won from the Sohagpur seat of Shahdol district in a byelection in 2000, defeating candidates from both the BJP and the Congress. 

Less than a year earlier, in 1999, Kamla Jaan alias Kamla Mausi had won the mayoral election in Katni city. However, she had to step down from her post in 2002 after a local court said she was not “eligible” to be the mayor. The court had termed Ms. Jaan’s election “illegal” as the seat was reserved for women, and she was registered as male in the electoral rolls at the time. 

‘We are not a curse’

Ms. Majhwar never received any formal education, but considers Ms. Jaan her guru since she went to work with her at the age of 14. Together, they did all the stereotypical jobs that the majority of the Kinnar community in India has to do, including singing celebratory songs or blessings at auspicious events to earn money.

“I never went to school as the society does not accept people like us. Like others from the Kinnar community, I too used to be called all kinds of names,” she says, adding that while her parents loved her, they too were “bound by the society’s constraints”. She adds: “We are not the curse the society thinks we are.”

“I had left my parents’ home and worked with our group for about 10 to 12 years before people asked me to join politics when I was 25 or 26,” she says.

Campaigning on a Scooty

Even now, Ms. Majhwar claims that it is the people of Damoh who asked her to contest the Lok Sabha polls. “This is the reason I have entered the fray from neighbouring Damoh instead of my own constituency [Khajuraho],” she says, adding that fellow members of the Kinnar community and the general public are campaigning for her. 

“I go on my Scooty and the workers and my chele (disciples) join me on their bikes and Scooties,” she says, confident that she can give a tough fight to the candidates from major parties. 

Though Ms. Majhwar claims to be contesting as an Independent candidate, her poll affidavit shows that she fighting on a ticket from the Indian People’s Adhikar Party. She has also extended her support to Himangi Sakhi, another member of the Kinnar community, who is contesting the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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