Dr Padmashali is planning to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issues faced by gender and sexual minorities in the country, including the lack of political representation for the community in the Parliament and the state legislatures.
Dr Padmashali is a transgender activist and co-founder of the human rights organisationOndede (the word means convergence in Kannada).
She is one of thepetitioners in themarriage equality petitions heard by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court over the last two months. She was represented by senior advocate Jayna Kothari.
After the respondents had made the insinuation that non-heterosexuality was an “urban elite concept” Kothari, sharing Dr Padmashali’s struggle, had said: “Akkai Padmashali … is a well-known [transgender] activist. At the age of 15, she was thrown out of her house. She had to drop out of school. She was on the street. And thereafter … she has come back to the mainstream. This is a life they have to live. To say that they are elitists … These are totally poor, working-class backgrounds”
Dr Padmashaliwrote to the President of India, Droupadi Murmu, on the lack of representation of the LGBTQIA++ community in the Parliament and the state legislatures on May 17, celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
On May 22, Dr Padmashali wasappointed a member of the National Advisory Committee on Inclusion (NACI) by the Election Commission of India.
The Leaflet spoke to her Dr Padmashali on various issues, including the involvement of her organisation in the recent Karnataka assembly elections.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: You wrote to the President on the lack of LGBTQIA++ representation in the Parliament and the state legislatures. You mentioned that during the hearing of the marriage equality petitions, the State argued that the Parliament should decide on this matter. Can you elaborate on your concerns?
A: For so many years, the rule of majoritarianism and totalitarianism has totally excluded the most vulnerable class of the population from protection, one of them being gender and sexual minorities. If we look at the gender and sexuality movement, including the feminist movement, these were not really accepted in society, especially in the system of justice. However, India is a democratic country which is supposed to be progressive.
If you look at the NALSA judgment, the Supreme Court clearly said that the Parliament should hear the concerns of gender and sexual minorities, but the Parliament did not pay heed.
We have been through it all. This uncertainty is to be blamed on the heteronormative understanding of gender and sexual minorities. The concepts of gender and sexuality are fluid. But the political majority does not want to understand it. If you look at the NALSAjudgment, the Supreme Court clearly said that the Parliament should hear the concerns of gender and sexual minorities, but the Parliament did not pay heed. When the NALSA judgment was pronounced, all political parties stood in its favour except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Union government continues to attack the rights of the community through its majoritarian understanding.
Though it is the Parliament that should uphold constitutional morality, I have written to the President seeking her intervention because there is absolutely no political willingness to get political representation for the community. Even Anglo-Indians have representation in the Parliament, but a community which constitutes 10 percent of the population has no representation. The member of Parliament from my constituency has no idea about the basic concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation. So, how can the Parliament decide on us when there is no one representing our concerns? A truly democratic process can only be ensured through the representation of our community in the political process.
I wrote to the President because she comes from the Dalit community and I think she will understand our sufferings better than anyone else.
Q: Next year will be 10 years since the NALSA judgment was pronounced. TheTransgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 was enacted pursuant to NALSA guidelines. Do you look forward to celebrating 10 years of the judgment that gave legal recognition to your identity?
A: I have recently been appointed as a member of the NACI, which addresses the concerns of vulnerable communities, including gender and sexual minorities. This is an affirmative action on the part of the government and I appreciate it. But I am highly disappointed at how the NALSA guidelines have been flouted.
Though it is the Parliament that should uphold constitutional morality, I have written to the President seeking her intervention because there is absolutely no political willingness to get political representation from the community.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act should have been exactly the same as the NALSA guidelines. The Union government has not fulfilled the judgment at all. If you look at all my documents, I identify myself as female. But why is there interference from the State for my right to self-determination of my gender identity? Do you as a female need a gender-affirmative certificate? Does the other binary gender require it? Then, why me or the members of my community?
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act did not go through any discussion. It was passed through a hurried passage at the time when the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the farmers’ laws were passed. I am not in favour of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. The legislation was supposed to be inclusive of working class voices, but it was not. Even if members of the gender and sexual minorities were involved, only upper-class, elite, gender and sexual minorities were involved. I would say, the National Council for Transgender Persons established under the Act is nothing but a puppet of the Union government. This is shown by the fact that many members of the council have resigned.
If you look at India’s human rights record, I feel so ashamed that it always takes a neutral stand at the United Nations Human Rights Council on issues concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. India is politically immature to handle the issues concerning our community.
The government needs to show political will towards the inclusion of our community and until then, it would not be justified to celebrate the NALSA judgment.
Q: You are one of the petitioners in the marriage equality petitions. We heard of your suffering and struggles in court. How do you respond to the State’s attempt to brand you as an “urban elitist”? Do you really expect that the government will recognise marriage equality when it has specifically omitted the right to marry under the Transgender Protection Act? Or are we going to wait for 10 more years for another Navtej Singh Johar to happen?
A: I am glad we are using the term ‘marriage equality’. I do not want to use the term ‘same-sex marriage’ because it does injustice to the larger spectrum of people existing in the LGBTQIA++ community. Speaking about marriage equality, I am disappointed in the stand taken by the Union government. It shows their colonial mindset. But do I want to wait for another 10 years? I do not think our community can do that. The petitioners in the marriage equality petitions rightly argued thatour lives are passing by .
We need to exercise the rights given to us by the Constitution, especially against the Union government that has branded us as urban elitists. How am I an urban elitist when I have struggled throughout my life to enjoy my basic fundamental rights? India is not even a developed nation, so can they really make that categorisation of us being urban elites? If you look at the journey of activism demanding recognition and rights for our community, it has now been recognised worldwide. But it really started at a grassroots level. I do not think the government acknowledges this because they awarded the Padma Shri to transgender folk dancer Matha B. Manjamma Jogati, knowing that she belongs to the politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the BJP.
If you look at India’s human rights record, I feel so ashamed that it always takes a neutral stand at the United Nations Human Rights Council on issues concerning gender identity and sexual orientation. India is politically immature to handle the issues concerning our community; this is reflected in its failure to comply not just with NALSA but also with Navtej Singh Johar. It took a neutral stand on gender identity and sexual orientation, but it is illiterate and does not really understand the concept.
Q: In the recent elections in Karnataka, the civil society played an important role in the victory of the Indian National Congress (INC). Can you talk about the role played by LGBTQIA++ organisations, if any? Do you expect any change in the political climate towards the community post the elections?
A: In general, I think the people of Karnataka really wanted a change from the anti-people policies such as thehijab ban or theanti-conversion laws and the kind of politically charged environment created by the BJP-led state government. There were constant attacks on sex workers, transgender persons and Dalits.So, the civil society had converged because all of us wanted a people’s government that would listen to and address our concerns.
It is very important for us to have participation at the public level and the recent elections in Karnataka is the best example of how our organisation Ondede played a vital role. We are a part of the manifesto committee.
It is very important for us to have participation at the public level and the recent elections in Karnataka is the best example of how our organisation Ondede played a vital role. We are a part of the manifesto committee. Our participation is reflected in the fact that the INC had mentioned in its election manifesto that it would constitute a welfare board, and allocate ₹100 crore of the state budget to support the children of hijras (transgender persons) and jogappas (men who marry a goddess to become women). No other party has included something like this in their respective manifestos. So, Karnataka’s election is a hope for our community.
Q: As a transgender activist and a founder of the human rights organisation Ondede, and someone who is actively involved in politics, how do you think you are able to represent the struggles of your community? Does your status as an activist change anything in terms of societal perception?
A: They say that there are many firsts attached to my name. I think my activism with many stakeholders has really changed a lot of things for me and my community. So, my many firsts are the beginning of much-needed activism. With our involvement in Karnataka, I hope that there are many firsts by other members of the community.