Transgender Nazrul Islam Ritu has been elected chairman in the union parishad election of Trilochonpur of Kaliganj in Jhenaidah. This is the first time anyone of the transgender community has become a UP chairman. Things were not easy and it was a struggle to come this far. Nazrul Islam speaks to Prothom Alo about this struggle and more
Congratulations on becoming the first transgender person to become a union parishad chairman. How do you feel about this?
I am thrilled. The people here have honoured me. I am grateful to them. I would not have gained this victory without their support. I got double the amount of votes than my nearest contender. This reveals the people's support for me.
It is no secret that things are difficult for the third gender in our society. Union parishad is the lowest tier in local government. Surely it wasn't easy sailing for a transgender person to become chairman. Tell us about it.
I am with the people. The people wanted me to contest in the election and so I did. It is because of the people that I have won. But of course, no one just places you there. I have had to work hard. I have had to serve the people. Only then did they gain confidence in me.
Many persons of the transgender tick the 'female' box when filling out the nomination forms, not identifying themselves as transgender or 'other'. What about you?
My National ID card identifies me as Nazrul Hijra and in the nomination form I also identified myself as a 'hijra' (transgender).
Earlier there was no option other than male or female as one's identity. How do you see things now?
This recognition has been granted under the rule of the honourable prime minister Sheikh Hasina. This is a significant achievement. This recognition has a big contribution towards my coming this far.
Did you face any problems when registering as a voter?
Not at all. I registered just as anyone else does.
How did you reach this position to be able to contest in the election? What qualifications made people put their trust in you?
Actually I am not educated, I just know how to sign my name. I won't boast. I am in this position simply because the people love me. I have become their representative. But I have always worked for the people. I was born and brought up here and then went to Dhaka. But whenever I came back to my area, I always tried to do something or the other for the people. I helped girls during their marriage, stood by those who fell ill. I even helped the people in constructing roads. That is when people thought I would surely do even more if I became their representative.
This is the first time that you contested in the election. Did your rivals use your identity against you?
Yes, they did. There were all sorts of barbs about my identity. They said I was a 'hijra' and wouldn't be able to do anything if elected and that I wouldn't be able to stay in the area even. They said I had no idea about being a chairman and so I would never be able to serve the people. I had to tolerate a lot of humiliation. If I wasn't a 'hijra', perhaps they wouldn't have said this. This is verbal harassment. Many of my people were even physically assaulted. My relatives were beaten up and injured. I had to bear the costs of their treatment. I was often not allowed to come out and go around the area. But I repeatedly said that let them assault me if they want, if that makes them feel good. If I was allowed to contest properly, I would have got even more votes.
Now that you are elected, what are your plans?
I have been elected, now let's see what can be done. I want to work for the people. I want to serve them. I do not understand politics. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has given us recognition and now I humbly seek her kind attention.
What problems lie ahead?
There were all sorts of hesitations and conflicts before the election, but all that cleared up after the election. There must be no more fighting or clashes. But if the opponents still want to make trouble, I will seek help for the police administration.
* This inteview appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir