In the month of November 2021, hundreds of achievers from varied sectors from across the nation conferred the Padma awards. The ceremony witnessed President Ram Nath Kovind gracefully pinning each awardee with the medal and handing over the certificates while receiving various forms of greetings from the recipients. But one unique gesture that had him break into a wide smile while the audience roared in applause was that of transgender folk artist Jogati Manjamma‘s act of waving her saree pallu thrice with a wide smile before the President could pin the medal on her.
In an exclusive interaction with PBNS, Padma Shri Awardee, Matha B Manjamma Jogati talks about this unique gesture, which, in our culture, is also called ‘taking off Drishti’ or ‘warding away any evil eye’.
Explaining why she decided to do this grand gesture to President Ram Nath Kovind, she said “Before the Padma Shri award, almost 3 days continuously the ceremony was taking place at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. There were a lot of functions that the President was attending then and when I was sitting there at the President Palace, my number was 21. When I was sitting there, I realized that the President is made to sit-stand 20 times and before that Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan was given. And I realized for three days he is been doing this and he must be very tired. When I was just walking to receive my medal, I just felt that he was very tired and from the ‘Heart of the Mother’, how a mother responds to a son, child – when a child goes around and comes home, ‘Nazar Nikalna’ this is a ritual has been followed in our tradition. So, like a mother, I just felt I had to do this and this is part of a great tradition that Jogati Sampradaya also continues to do. And maybe I represented a mother there, or maybe I represented the Jogati culture there.”
Matha B Manjamma Jogati, a folk dancer has mastered several art forms, including Jogati Nritya and Janapada songs. Through her dedication, she became the first transgender president of Karnataka Jaanapada Academy, a government body for performing arts in Karnataka. In the interaction, she talks about how so far, society has changed with the changing times in accepting the transgender community. She says that a lot of people from the community already are doing a good job. They are achieving good heights in their life. “In Karnataka and a few states nearby, not much progress has been made but however today one thing which I quite often hear from the non-community people is that when we listen to you in the videos, in interviews, read about your autobiography, the articles written about you in the mainstream media, we realize that there is a human in this trans person which we would otherwise have not realized it. Now the way we look at those trans people, maybe they are begging on the signals, when we look at them, we treat them like humans now. Quite often we might give more money to them because we know that their life is not easy, they are struggling; acceptance itself is not there. We ourselves have realized it so late – non-community people say. As far as the community people are concerned, whenever they reach out to me, they say that Amma many people do ask me, do you know Manjamma – she received the Padma Shri – then we feel so proud – they all connect me to them. There are a lot of things that are changing, everything towards the good that is progressive,” says the Padma Shri awardee.
In the interaction, she also mentions a dream of hers to build a community centre wherein there is an opportunity given for all the folk artist who wants to come and learn various forms of folk and a centre which should be surrounded by a training institute and a theatre and a housing complex where people can come and get an accommodation – and can perform.
She says, “This is not in for the particular community people but many of us, ones the parents get to know that they are trans people as such they leave them and when they leave their education get stuck and they end up being sex workers or begging. So, for those, I want to encourage them to come up, live in that place and continue their education and if they don’t want to do education, they want to be an artist, so again they will get a lot of opportunities to learn various folk forms and they can become an artist and continue their life, like how I did or if there is slime skill development needed, I can provide that as well. One important thing which I realized is that when Trans people, once they get old, there is nobody to take care of them. So, I want to give them a respectful life for their last few days – for all the old trans people. In that area, I want to have an old age home for trans people and if possible, their final rites also should be done with the highest respect and I want to do that. Regarding this, I have also requested the government to allocate some land for that near to the place where I have learnt and grown.”
The path for Amma has been difficult. From thinking of ending her life to begging on the streets, to finally finding her passion and following to the point where, she now, is a recipient of the Padma Shri Award – she recognised herself and never looked back!