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University of Madras presented its Vetri Award, for performers from marginalised communities in society, to Kalaimamani Narthaki Nataraj, a transgender and renowned Bharatanatyam dancer, on Monday.
Nataraj, one of the eminent Bharatanatyam dancers in the country, had been instrumental in starting one of the earliest campaigns for rights of transgender people in Tamil Nadu. She forced the union home ministry to change the alphabet ‘U’ (eunuch) to ‘F’ for female in gender column of passports issued to transgenders.
Nataraj took up the issue in 2002 after she was stopped at many airports as her passport had the alphabet ‘U’ to denote gender.
It was also Narthaki who fought to replace the derogatory Tamil word ‘Aravani’ with Thiru Nangai’ (supreme woman) in official circulars of Tamil Nadu government. Plenty of derogatory terms are used to refer to transgenders in the state.
“Aravani was one such term which found its way to government documents. I raised this issue at several government meetings and during the former DMK regime, they agreed to delete ‘Aravani’ and use “Thiru Nangai’ in all official documents,” says a much delighted Nataraj.
Gopalan Ravindran, head of the journalism and communication department at the University of Madras said that Nataraj deserved the award for her commitment to an art and for struggles to uplift a marginalized community.
“Caste, class and gender had always played a major role in suppressing the emotions and rights of artists across the world. Contributions of Nataraj, as an artist and her struggles for her community are part of the history of cultural movements in Tamil Nadu,” said Ravindran.
“I became a dancer for my identity and I continue to dance for my soul,” said Nataraj, receiving the award from K P Aravanan, former vice chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli.
Nataraj is specialized in Tanjavur Bharatanatyam. She also runs dance schools in Europe, US and Canada and in Chennai. Recipient of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2011, Narthaki believes that the art of dance made her life meaningful and helped express her emotions.
“I was just 10 when I realised that I am born with a wrong body. Despite having all privileges of a rich family in Madurai, I realized that changes in my body has put an end to my childhood. I had to prove myself which prompted me to learn dance. And yes, I was fearless and had to struggle for my dance and a right to live,” she said.