Candidate wins in a landslide . . .
Nazrul Islam Ritu was elected mayor of Trilochanpur Union, a city of 40,000 in Kaliganj Upazila in western Bangladesh. The 45-year-old is the country’s first transgender person to be elected mayor. Ritu, who uses both he and she pronouns, was born into a large Muslim family in Trilochanpur, but fled as a child to join a commune of transgender people in Dhaka, the capital city. She returned to her hometown in her late twenties and gained local popularity through her community work in support of both Muslim and Hindu places of worship.
Recognition of third gender . . .
Transgender people face discrimination and violence in Bangladesh, and homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by life imprisonment due to a penal code introduced by the British colonial government in 1860. However, Ritu’s win highlights a number of recent gains in transgender rights in the Muslim-majority country. Ritu identifies as ‘third gender,’ or Hijra, the official designation and an umbrella term for those assigned to the male gender at birth, but who do not refer to themselves as either a man or woman. Hijra has been legally recognized as a third gender in Bangladesh since 2013, and it became an option when registering to vote in the country in 2018.
Historic win comes amid other social changes . . .
Ritu beat out her rival, who represented the ruling Awami League, running as an independent candidate on a platform to eradicate corruption and the drug trade in her hometown. In addition to her service to her community, Bangladesh’s growing tolerance for the rights of sexual minorities also made her victory possible. While Ritu is the first transgender person in Bangladesh to be elected mayor, several other trans people have also recently won elected office. That includes Pinki Khatun becoming the country’s first transgender councillor in another western town in 2019, and earlier this month, Shahida Begum winning a council seat in the Khulna district in central Bangladesh. Analysts will be watching whether more changes may be on the horizon as support continues growing for LGBT rights in the country.
- Al Jazeera: Bangladesh town elects country’s first transgender mayor
- Jakarta Post: Transgender councillor elected in Bangladesh first
- New York Times: 6 sentenced to death in Bangladesh for killing of gay rights activist