Starting its journey in 2018, Brihonnola is a volunteer organisation working to create a space for the transgender community in the mainstream social and economic periphery and aims to dispel heterosexual stigmas. The volunteer based organisation wants to create a pluralist society by engaging youth in schools and making them aware about transgender communities, writes Afnan Rahman
WHAT is the instant thought that comes to your mind as you face a transgender on the street? The common reply to that might be — ‘nuisance’ or ‘burdensome’. However, Sadekul Islam bears a broader perspective about the transgender community. Recognising them as individual identities, he initiated an organisation named Brihonnola. It aims to associate transgender in all the institutions of society with social acceptance, creates a platform for them to explore their abilities and spreads awareness regarding their rights as self-dependent individuals.
Sadekul shared a specific incident from his life which shaped his mind set on working with the transgender community. The incident took place when he was a student at Notre Dame College. ‘I was in a melancholic mood sitting at Kamlapur railway station. All of a sudden, a transgender approached me. As soon as she realised that I was in an off mood, her tone instantly changed. She sympathetically inquired the reason of my sadness. I spoke with her and we gradually picked up on a great conversation. Eventually, I felt better. This interaction made me realise that people, in general, hold tremendous misconceptions about transgender. They are kind, empathetic and deserve to be respected like every other human being.’
Sadekul and his team first brought the transgender issue into light through their participation in the Edupreneurship Idea quest 2017. They demonstrated their road map on working for the community. Being the champion team in the contest, they received tremendous appreciation from the jury. Accordingly, they utilised the prize money to develop their project. A year forward, in 2018, Brihonnola officially started its journey. At present, the organisation works with four wings.
They are namely — the cultural wing, the research wing, the accessible environment promotion wing and the youth network wing. With 150-200 youth volunteers in the team, they arrange different events, workshops and seminars.
Brihonnola stands out as an organisation as it takes both verbal and voluntary endeavours. One such noteworthy voluntary initiative is the cleanliness campaign, organised on October 1, 2019. It was a day-long event which was focused on the globalisation and environment pollution predicament.
The campaign incorporated the transgender community, besides the youth volunteers, as active agents to spread awareness. Sadekul elaborated, ‘The motive behind the direct inclusion of the transgender community in it was to develop their self-esteem as to how they can make positive contributions to solving global issues. The pedestrians noticed them working along with boys and girls which, to at least some extent, helped to remove the stereotypes about transgender held by mass people.’
Project EPRMx is another important campaign of the organisation. Its purpose is to establish a gender-responsive community environment for transgender. That is, equal rights to education, treatment and social acceptance as a respected identity. Regarding this project, the founder stated, ‘We often tend to ‘other-ise’ them. This stereotypical normative tendency is one of the significant reasons why they are a victim of social disparity and stigmatisation. Our purpose to uphold the EPRMx project is to promote a sociable environment for them.’ Under the project EPRMx, Brihonnola arranged an inclusive tour in January 2020 at Cox’s Bazar. The tour was a testament that friendly approach encourages them to be productive.
The agony and sorrow of a transgender are enormous. Ever since their birth, they are considered as a curse. Abandoned by the family, they live a life of misery and desolation. Social taboo compels them to get involved in sex trafficking. Not only that, they become victims of sexual assault. The stain on their honour is a stubborn one. Nevertheless, it is not impossible to get rid of this blemish. With immense optimism, Sadekul expressed, ‘If we look into our history, the youth are the ones who brought a revolution to our country. Besides Brihonnola, there are a number of other youth organisations working with the transgender issue. I believe the condition of transgender will certainly progress within the upcoming five to six years.’
Brihonnola shared its extensive plans for future endeavours. It thrives to expand their reach by connecting their youth networking wing with students of different educational institutions. Besides, it is working on an app specially designed for the needs of the transgender community. On top of that, it schemes to promote the third gender acknowledgement through holding seminars in various schools. Not to mention, the organisation envisions on establishing a vocational learning institute to nurture interests and latent of transgender community members.
In recent years, the law for transgender rights has been amended in our country. The third gender community now has lawful access to education, job, shelter and voting rights. However, the accessibility of these rights is not being utilised by the community. When asked on this matter Sadekul stated, ‘There is a tremendous informational gap regarding transgender rights between the social institutions and the community. The blithe association of transgender in society is still deeply stigmatised. This causes uneasiness for them to attain their rightful position even if some are aware of it. Brihonnola thus aims to socially normalise the transgender meddling with the purpose to avail them their legal rights.’
Any initiative taken certainly comes up with challenges. Likewise goes for Brihonnola. About the challenges faced by the organisation, the founder shared, ‘There is a section of our society which greatly chastises and demeans the transgender. People of such category often mock me and our volunteers as we work for our campaigns. Nevertheless, we are indifferent to such negative attitudes and handle them with optimism.’
For remarkable contribution to gender equality, Brihonnola won the Joy Bangla Youth Award 2018. About its recognition, Sadekul expressed, ‘We have been receiving tremendous support and encouragement for our initiative from our faculties, friends and university mates. Their constant support is accelerating Brihonnola’s growth and progress. Such co-operation makes us hopeful of a better future for the transgender community.’
Afnan Rahman is a student of North South University
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