Film highlights the plight of transgender people

Transgender film a surprise hit in Bangladesh
Film highlights the plight of transgender people
Transgender people are among the most disadvantaged groups in Bangladesh
The first film about the country’s transgender community, entitled Common Gender, is proving a surprise hit and playing to full houses in Bangladesh. “We don’t usually sell out except at the weekend,” said the manager of one cinema in Dhaka. “But since we started showing this film we’ve been struggling with the demand.” Negotiations are currently in progress to show the film nationwide and distribute it in India and other territories. “It’s currently on show in 10 theaters in Bangladesh and eight in Italy,” said the director, Noman Robin. “We’ve already grossed the nine million taka (US$ 110,024) that was invested.” The independent film, which started with a limited release in just six small venues, centers around a transgender person named Sushmita who falls in love with a Hindu boy. The boy’s family refuse to accept her, which leads her to commit suicide. Both movie critics and activists agree that it is an accurate reflection of the prevalent attitudes towards transgender people and the abuse they receive as a matter of course. Robin was inspired to make the film after witnessing a transgender person – known locally as a hijira - being severely beaten for using a female public toilet in a shopping mall. “I thought the film was going to be just for fun, but my attitude changed after I watched it,” said cinemagoer Mujibur Rahman. “I didn’t realize how much these people suffer, physically and mentally, and why people automatically think of them as bad. Now I feel that if they had sufficient opportunities, they too could do well in life.” Their plight is especially acute in Bangladesh, a traditional, conservative nation of clear religious and cultural distinctions with a significant population of around 150,000 hijira. Generally despised or seen as comical and entertaining, and with no other recognized social role, the only option for many is to seek to survive as dancers or sex workers. “Unlike some other countries, the hijira of Bangladesh are constantly victimized by negligence, abuse and stalking,” said Boby, the head of Sushtho Jibon - Healthy Life - a dedicated welfare organization. “I was born into an affluent family in Dhaka and at the age of around 12, I realized I was a hijira. My family pressed me to stay away from it, but it was out of my control,” said Boby, now aged 45. “The local boys used to tease me and throw things at me. Finally the family threw me out.” Boby’s organization has provided health care, skills training and counseling to thousands of hijira over the  last 20 years, without assistance from the government or any NGO. However, an official from the Ministry of Social Welfare said: “the government has allocated provision for some hijira in the current budget and they are likely to get a monthly allowance ranging from 200 to 500 taka (US$ 3-6). A list of hijira to be included in the scheme is underway.” But 75-year-old Moyna, who was disowned by her family at the age of 13, said transgendered people should not expect anything from the rest of society. “Since I was  driven away from home and disinherited, I’ve had no education, no training and no respect from people at all,” she said. “Unless the conservative mindset of society is altered, nothing is likely to change.” Related reports Activists say being gay is neither a sin nor a crime
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