Karnataka Janapada Academy, coming under the Department of Kannada and Culture, works for protection and conservation of folklore and the welfare of artistes.

Jogati Manjamma

BENGALURU: Her life-story is part of the syllabus for fifth standard in the state as also for BA in Karnataka Folk University and a serial in a Telugu channel. Meet 62-year-old Jogati Manjamma, the first transwoman to be appointed as the chairperson of the Karnataka Janapada Academy by the state government.

Sporting a big bindi and a bigger smile,  Manjamma says, “I learnt Jogati Nritya, a folk dance form, for one square meal. I never imagined that I would he heading such a prestigious academy one day.”

Karnataka Janapada Academy, coming under the Department of Kannada and Culture, works for protection and conservation of folklore and the welfare of artistes. The chairperson, whose term is for three years, can play a big role in helping state government frame policies in this regard.

Manjamma did not have it easy. Her family couldn’t come to terms with her sexuality. She was born a boy and preferred to be a girl. They abandoned her. But today, her life has turned for the better. “Now, with all this recognition, my family who disowned me, tell everyone proudly that they are my siblings,” she says without rancour.

Hailing from Kallukambagraama in Ballari, Manjamma belongs to the Arya Vaishya community.  Her family moved to Kukwaada village in Davanagere where her father worked in a sugar factory. She studied till SSLC there. “Though I was a boy, when I was 16 years old,  I realised I was behaving like a girl. That’s when my bad days started. I was beaten up by my parents and other family members. They took me to an astrologer and a doctor. They even stopped talking to me. I felt so helpless,” she says.

Manjamma then went to a nearby town and started begging to earn a living. She bought poison from that money and consumed it. “I dont know what happened. I was hospitalised and not conscious for many days. My family did not take care of me.  Instead, they said I was bringing a bad name to them. I still remember what my father said. He said if they had a disabled child, they would have taken care of it but not someone like me.  These words wounded me. I stole some saris of my mother and ran away from home,” she says.

Manjamma went to Mariyammanahalli in Hospet where she learnt Chowdaki Pada (a folk art form). She earned just enough to live on. Then she shifted to Chilakanahalli where Sushilamma, one of the villagers,  gave her a place to stay. “There I started making idlis in the morning and used to sell 3,000 idlis. In the evening I used to take tuitions for schoolchildren and they used to pay me Rs 5 to Rs 8 per month. This was sufficient to lead my life,” Manjamma says looking back.

It was during this time that Manjamma met Kalavva Jogati, a Jogati Nritya performer. “I learnt this dance form from her. My skin is dark. Every time we used to perform, I used to put makeup and felt I looked beautiful. Performing this folk dance itself gives a lot of satisfaction. Kalavva used to manage the shows. After her death, I took charge. Today, I have 12 Jogatis in my troupe. I have taught Jogati to thousands of people, even those from outside Karnataka,’’ she says with pride. Manjamma later joined the woman theatre group where she started playing male roles like Bhasmasura, Keechaka and Tarakasura. “Since I am well built, I usually was asked to play male roles,’’ she says with a smile.
Manjamma is happy with her life. She has adopted three children.

Courtesy Indian Express