In what is the first case of its kind in Odisha– a member of the LGBTQ community has been appointed the vice president of the women’s wing of a political party. BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik approved the appointment of transgender social activist Meera Parida as the vice president of the Biju Mahila Janata Dal, the party’s women’s wing, on Friday.
Meera tells Outlook she couldn’t thank Naveen Patnaik enough for the ‘honour’ he has bestowed not just on her but her community as a whole. But doesn’t she feel that it would have been a bigger honour if the BJD, or any other party for that matter, had opened a separate wing for her community? “I agree that it would have been better. But we must not ignore the ground reality where transgenders are clubbed with women. This is a small step in the right direction that may well lead to a LGBTQ wing in a political party sometime in the future. In any case, I like to identify myself as a ‘transwoman’ rather than a ‘transgender’,” she says.
Meera’s appointment, however, does not just have to do with her transgender status, but a recognition of the path-breaking work she has done as an activist fighting for the rights of her community, HIV/AIDS and sundry other activities. She is the chairperson of All Odisha Transgender Welfare Trust, president and co-founder of ‘Sakha’, the first community-based organization (CBO) working for the LGBT community in the state, and was also the president of the Odisha Kinnara Mahasangha for seven long years from 2009-2016. She is also a UNDP approved ‘master trainer’ in HIV/AIDS and has conducted numerous training programmes for activists working in the field. Her crowning glory came when she represented India in a delegation of members of transgender community on a visit to the White House, Washington, DC – the first from Odisha to get the honour.
The journey from a nondescript village in Begunia area in Khurda district to the White House, however, did not come easy. Coming as she did from an extremely poor family, her childhood and early adulthood was a period of extremely hard struggle. For a brief while, she even had to beg on the streets. Like all members of her community, she faced the barbs of all and sundry as she made her transition from Mayadhar Parida to Meera Parida, having a sex change operation along the way. But she allowed nothing to come in the way of her pursuit for a worthwhile cause. She did her Bachelor’s degree in Arts, went to Mumbai, struggled there for some years before coming back to Odisha and taking up a government job. But it did not take long for her to realize that the humdrum of a 10’-5’ job was not for her.
Asked if she would be accepted by the women in her party as an equal, Meera says she has no apprehensions on this score. “I have worked for the BJD for over a decade now and I have never once felt unwelcome in my interactions with Mr. Naveen Patnaik or other leaders of the party, whether men or women. My work has fetched me this post, not my gender. I am sure I will be accepted by the women of the party without any reservations,” she says.
Sulata Deo, BJD spokesperson and a senior leader of the party, concurs. “I came to know about Meera’s appointment only this morning and frankly I haven’t talked to other women about it. But I see no problem in accepting her as an equal and I am sure the others too will accept her warmly. After all, she adds value to the party organisation,” she says.
Meera strongly refutes the suggestion that the post of vice president of the women’s wing was a ‘consolation prize’ for being denied a party ticket. “I will be lying if I say I had no such expectation. Many people in my area also felt I should get a ticket. But I am not disappointed one bit. I never joined the party or did the work I do for any rewards. If I keep doing good work, who knows I may be considered for a party ticket one day,” she sings off.