Karnataka’s transgender woman Manjamma Jogathi stole the spotlight, during the ceremony held to distribute Padma awards at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday, with a unique greet to the President of India. Manjamma was conferred with the Padma Shri award for her contribution to folk dance.
When her name was called, Manjamma, draped in a saree went up to the President and before she receiving the award, she made a gesture with the ‘pallu’ of her sari to wish the President good luck.
According to the belief system, a good wish from a transgender can bring luck.
Born as Manjunatha Shetty in Ballari district Manjamma pursued studies till Class 10. At the age of 15, Manjamma started to identify himself as a woman and when he began behaving like a girl from his teens, his parents took him to a temple in Hospet and got him to perform Jogappa, a ritual in which the devotees are believed to get married to a god or goddess.
From then, Manjunath Shetty became Manjamma Jogathi but she was not allowed to return home. She then started her lone journey begging on the streets draped in sarees. She was also sexually abused and had decided to kill herself but luckily she came across a father and son who taught her dance, which gave a new start to her life.
She was introduced to Kallava Jogathi where Manjamma learnt the dance form Jogathi Nrithya (a folk performance of Jogappas) and started performing across the state. After Kaalavva’s death, she took over the troupe and the dance became more popular.
Amid poverty, social exclusion, and even rape, Manjamma Jogati mastered, among other art forms, Jogati Nritya and Janapada songs, Kannada language sonnets in praise of various female deities.
She became a prominent figure in popularizing the folk dance form across the rural parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Manjamma was first appointed as a member of the Karnataka Jaanapada Academy and later as the president of the same institution by the State government, which made her the first trans woman to head the top institution for Performing arts in the state.
In 2006, she was awarded the Karnataka Janapada Academy Award and, 13 years later, in 2019, she was appointed president of the institution. In 2010, Karnataka government honored her with the annual Kannada Rajyotsava award.