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Akkai Padmashali was born a boy, but she always felt like a girl. It took a lot of struggle with herself, with her family, and society, to become who she is today, a transgender activist.
Every time someone asks me “Are you home?” and I still respond “Not yet”, I think about this, one of the constant questions I get when people ask me literally and figuratively.
I have struggled for 23 years to make my identity in the society and I still feel like the struggle is not over yet. I have fought many battles personally, amidst the society and with the government at large. The sweet smell of success is around the corner but the journey continues even after I am gone.
I grew up in a normal household in Bangalore. I was born a man and hence the expectations from me were drawn even before I grew up. I followed the traditions of my elders and their theories of gender notions until I found myself twitching to challenge it. Simply put, I love wearing sarees. I was born a man but I was extremely comfortable wearing sarees. They rather helped me express myself better. This was considered horrific given I was born with a penis.
It took me nearly 8 years to accept myself and deny my own feelings. I am 35 now and it’s taken nearly 23 years for my family to accept this aspect of my life, and identity as normal.
Life was suddenly different the minute I voiced my anger against the system. I’ve had to struggle at every point for even basic needs because of being ‘different’. You are stripped of the inclusion in your own home, society, schools, offices and communities because it perturbs their idea of a normal patriarchal system.
People’s perceptions about gender are so strong that even the slightest challenge to it results in a war. Acceptance from family became a mountain task for me and that was just the beginning of my journey. Trans-gender people were socially excluded and many of us have had to go through tremendous violence and harassment to earn their rightful place in the world. Some of us have been pelted stones at, assaulted, raped, violated only because we were perceived as anti-social.
Almost all of us in India are raised with a very clear demarcation of our genders right from our birth. Beginning from our intimate surroundings especially parents, siblings to friends, relatives, teachers, school and then public life. The struggle to constantly prove your identity increases at each step but the need is to educate.
It is important for everyone to be aware that these patriarchal notions are not the gospel truth of life and need to be challenged. We are in a state of a paradigm shift in our society where all the so called norms and notions of identity are being challenged. Labels, notions and the patriarchal rules are being challenged. In such a scenario it is important for the power makers to take the right steps.
Feminist, feminazi, Anti-social are all labels that slot people and immediately judgments are drawn. But for me to be a feminist is to have a completely non-judgmental attitude. My fight has been with the ideology of the society that portrays superficial notions of gender. I don’t like the labels so I would say that it is important to be human and to be human is to be inclusive. The patriarchal mindset of the society creates notions of masculine and feminine stereotypes that slots people into boxes. If a boy is born with penis, he has to behave like a man. And likewise for women.
There is no place for someone who challenges this and largely the society does not count people who don’t identify with these set stereotypes. For me feminism is not about just women rights it’s about inclusion at a social level and largely across the country. For me feminism is about understanding every individual for who they are instead of slotting them as just male or female.
I have travelled a lot to create this awareness in people. I have had several debates, dialogues and interacted with a gazillion people on a daily basis. But only a mere 0.5% have awareness about trans-gender people. Unfortunately, due to the power play and politics the minorities and their genders always get squashed in the name of privatization and globalization. It is upon the government and the law makers to have a righteous and a more inclusive outlook towards all strata of society. We clearly need better leaders to guide our youth at every level of our administration to get issues of the transgender minorities so they lead a normal life in the society. To have equal opportunities and a respectable place in the system.
Hence the 2014 verdict of transgender judgement and the 2018 Supreme court judgement of article 377 were monumental in our fight with the constitution. But my fight is with the system. The fact that the judgments took so long to be declared and abided by says a lot about the regression in our society. We may have grown as a huge nation but some aspects of our society have still not evolved, social inclusion certainly being one of them. Despite earning our rightful place in getting constitution approval and morality how do we get this into our practical daily lives. The fight continues forever.
I am asked several times if I ever felt like leaving India and moving away to another country where there is more openness to trans-gender people and I scoff at it. Are we not a country where a million cultures and castes live together in unison almost merging into each other? Are we not a country that is the biggest democracy in the world? If we are all of these and proudly so, then are we not a country for people who are ‘different’. We certainly are.
India is as much my home as anyone else’s. I’ve fought hard to make my place here and will continue to do so. Why should I abandon my soil, when my roots and home is here? I have tread a long and difficult path to come here. I have finally reached home.
As told to our writer Swapna Gandhi.
Editor’s note: Feminism has exploded over Indian screens and minds in the last few years, bringing what was considered an ‘uncomfortable’ topic into everyday speech, with all its hues and forms, warts and all. Wonder of wonders, it is even becoming an accepted way of life!
In this series, we invite women of note who’ve made a mark in their respective fields to share their Feminism – how they have experienced it, and how their view of it has evolved over the years.
Dr Akkai Padmashali is a male to female Transwoman, social activist. Her journey is one of courage and determination. From begging on the streets and participating in sex work for two square meals a day, she is now an activist that has inspired many. In 2014, she co-founded Ondede, an organization of feminists, activists, thinkers, and academics who recognized the need to converge the interests of three movements in the country – children’s rights, women’s rights, and the rights of sexual minorities. She was also one of the petitioners of 377 IPC to bench the verdict on 6th September 2018..
This is the third article in the series.
Want to know what our other feminists say? Read the thoughts of Ethel Da Costa here.
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