The run up to the Lok Sabha elections and the by elections in the state has turned out to be a dampener for the transgender community’s annual Koovagam Festival in the state.
The Koovagam festival, which is observed in the village by the same name in Villupuram, sees a confluence of over 10,000 transgenders every year. Attracting visitors from across Indian and abroad, the festival this year will be commemorated on April 17, a day before the state goes to polls. The legend behind the festival is based on the Mahabharata, following the story of Aravan, the son of Arjuna, also known as Koothandavar. As part of the festival, the transgenders marry the presiding deity Koothandavar on the previous day (April 16 this year) and they remove the thali (wedlock) to mourn his death on the last day. A century old festival, it has garnered a lot of coverage becoming an organised event for over two decades now.
However, the community is ruing the lack of enthusiasm, with a visible drop in the footfall. Says Sudha, a member of the state’s Transgender Welfare Board, “Lack of accommodation due to the elections and the season of campaigning across the country, has brought down the numbers. We barely have any participation from other states like Maharashtra, New Delhi and West Bengal, and countries like Malaysia, Singapore, this time.”
The tradition must go on
Ahead of the beauty contest organised as part of the festival, along with health seminars and discussions, Grace Banu, from the South India Transgender Federation and an organiser of the event, says that the steady decline in numbers have been worrying. “We knew that the elections would have a direct bearing on the turn out. However, this festival is extremely important for the community as it is a continuing tradition. We cannot reschedule or call it off. So, we have to do with less numbers this time,” she adds. She says that they have about 700 people turning up so far. “We hope the numbers increase by the end of the day. Moreover, many will come to the temple directly tomorrow for the rituals,” she explains
The community also observes Transgenders Day in the state on April 15. Grace adds that this time due to the elections, the sensitisation events that have been organised in the month have taken a direct hit
The interest among the community in the state has not waned, adds Sudha. “Since there is half a day left after the event, even those who wanted to vote and participate in the festival have managed to participate from within the state,” she says.
However there are some like Kanaka Nayak, a transgender from Theni, who is staying away from the festival this time for election related campaigns. “I was also keen to vote and focus on elections. Hence, I had to give the festival a miss this time,” she says.e r