- The city, previously called Calcutta, calls the bus seats ‘tridhara’ – which means ‘third power’.
Transgender commuters in the Indian city of Kolkata – previously Calcutta – now have special seats on some public busses.
The city has 42,000 public busses. And while they provide public transport they are actually privately owned.
So Sobhan Mukherjee, who dreamt up the transgender bus seats, worked with the umbrella organization – the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates (JCBS) – to make his idea a reality.
So far, the seats only exist on 36 busses – on the 205 and 205A routes.
These travel on a commuter route between Bansdroni in south Kolkata – an area popular with culture and music lovers – and Babughat, on the bank of the River Ganges in the central business district.
The seats have stickers and signs on them, indicating that they are meant for transgender people.
Mukherjee called the seats ‘tridhara’ – which means ‘third power’, another term for transgender or ‘third gender’ in India. It is also a Hindi girl’s name meaning The River Ganges.
Seats that send a message
It’s not the first time 23-year-old Mukherjee has changed the face of the city – with a 14million population.
He’s become famous as ‘Kolkata’s padman’ for setting up sanitary napkin vending boxes in public toilets.
Back in 2017, he organized the first transgender toilets in Kolkata. He called these ‘tridhara’ too.
Tapan Banerjee, secretary of the JCBS, told the Times of India how Mukherjee persuaded them to add the seats:
‘We are against reservation in any form. However, we are allowing this quota on the buses because this is the only way we can send across the message of including this marginalized and much-abused community in the mainstream.’
Furthermore Banerjee indicated this was just the start. The JCBS wants similar seats on buses across the state of West Bengal.
Mukherjee’s friend, Ranjita Sinha, who is a member of West Bengal’s transgender board, also has her own plan for the city’s transport system.
She is asking for Kolkata’s Metro trains to provide free travel for transgender passengers.
Transgender people face a difficult situation in India. The country has long recognized a third gender population – called hijras – and they play an important role at ceremonies.
However, many still treat trans people as pariahs and all LGBT+ Indians face discrimination and even violence with little legal protection.