India’s first transgender beauty queens

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By Jayeeta Mazumder, Hindustan Times

It was very different from the usual beauty contests… minus the skin show, the choreographed ramp walk or the presence of the glitzy fashion world. The contestants were judged on the basis of talent, confidence… and comfort level with their sexuality. Yes, it’s the first-ever beauty pageant for the transgender community in India.

The Indian Super Queen pageant concluded in Mumbai recently, after a month-long audition in 10 cities and intense grooming sessions. The four finalists are Bobby Laishram, Rani Botara, Arpan Banerjee and Ritu Bawgi.

The brain behind the event, Laxminarayan Tripathi, was the first transgender to represent Asia Pacific in the UN General Assembly President’s office as a Civil Society Task Force member. A founder member of the first Hijra/Transgenders organisation in India and South East Asia, Tripathy says, “Although what I started was considered ‘different’, many people said that I was doing it for publicity. But I never gave up.” She admitted that all the contestants were extremely eager to learn. Most of them would love to participate in mainstream beauty contests if given an opportunity.

The semi finalists had to clear three rounds — the ramp walk, talent showcase round and a Q ‘n’ A to bag the crown and prize money of Rs 10 lakh. Judged by gay rights activist Celina Jaitly and actor Zeenat Aman, the two runners-up won prizes of Rs 8 lakh and 5 lakh, respectively. “We are planning to make it an annual event. Hope we continue getting the support,” Tripathy said.

Bobby Laishram (Winner)
Always super-confident, nothing ever daunts Bobby. A trained hairdresser based in Manipur, she dreams of making it big. “I want to do something for my people,” she asserts in fluent Hindi. Having lived in Mumbai for 6-7 months, she considers returning. “I’ve always wanted to represent Manipur... I want to utilise the support that I’m getting and open a salon for my community, my state and my people. I want to teach people whatever I know,” she declares.

Rani Botara (Second runner-up)
Rani’s hijra toli (gang) was her life and livelihood, until the beauty contest knocked on her door. “I’ve never been so happy in my life,” she laughs. Hailing from Jaipur, she dances at weddings or when a child is born and intends to return. Although fearful at times, she was never overwhelmed. To her, winning or losing is a part of life. “It’s great that this forum is provided, because we then have the courage to show our talents. I’d come if they called me again,” she says.

Arpan Banerjee (Third runner-up)
A transgender activist in West Bengal, Arpan runs a boutique at home with her sister. Although her designs are community-based featuring traditional clothes for the transgender community, Arpan wishes to expand her business. However, she asserts that she will never budge from her stand as a representative of the community. “I won’t change myself ever. I know the government has spoken about social causes for us, but we understand them better. We should be taking them up if we have the means and the money to do so,” she says.

For a well-educated Arpan, the change in the societal attitude has already begun. She voices, “The media attention is proof enough. We have talents of our own, which is why we are here.”

Ritu Bawgi (Third runner-up)
Ritu never had it easy either. A bar dancer based in Delhi, she says, “Now I can face society with great confidence and assert my rights.” Ask her what she intends to do with the prize money of Rs 5 lakh, and she replies, “I really haven’t thought about it. It’s just been two days since I’ve won the crown. Give me some time to decide.” Ritu explains that she has been flooded with calls from her fans since the day her pictures started appearing in newspapers. “It feels great to be appreciated,” she remarks.

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