With gender dysphoria since adolescence, R Ramya, 24, is in the process of changing gender to identify as male.
Growing up in rural Tamil Nadu, Ramya struggled with various obstacles, including access to information, a conservative environment, and trying to make sense of her emotions. in a landmark order banned attempts to “cure” people’s gender identity and sexual orientation as part of orders to sensitize Union and state government departments and civil society to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ communities .
The order followed a request from another Madurai lesbian couple who had sought protection from their families who were opposed to their relationship.
The court took the opportunity to issue orders to police, prison, health, judicial and educational authorities and Judge N Anand Venkatesh opted for counseling to become more familiar with LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) . ) problems. He included guidelines for the police not to harass the community due to her parents filing ‘missing complaints’, which is what ultimately happened to Ramya.
After Ramya and her partner S Nidhi, 23, ran away, Ramya’s family filed a missing person report with the local police station. Ramya constantly received death threats from his family. “They would have killed both of us in the name of honor,” said Ramya. Her fear led her to contact a local NGO who connected her with a lawyer in Chennai to file a case with Madras HC.
On June 25, a court composed of Judge M Nirmal Kumar followed the guidelines previously established by Judge Venkatesh and the court annulled the misdemeanor complaint filed by Ramya’s family. “…the defendant police are ordered not to cause any harassment and also to provide adequate protection for the safety and life of the petitioner following the guidelines issued by this court,” the June 25 order said.
Judge Venkatesh, who continued to hear the case, approved several orders last year, such as renewing MBBS courses in India, after noting that homosexuality is reaffirmed during a doctor’s education. An order directed the state government to include a specific clause in the Police Rules of Conduct to punish misconduct if the police harass people from the LGBTQIA+ community, activists and NGO workers who help them.
“… the change must occur at the level of society and when it is complemented by a law there will be a notable change in the perspective of society by recognizing same-sex relationships,” said the 107-page sentence issued on June 7 of 2021. The order was issued roughly three years after the Supreme Court decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships between adults and seven years after it affirmed the rights of transgender people.
During the last hearing on April 8, the additional attorney general informed the court that the Department of Social Welfare and Women’s Empowerment was working on the Transgender Standards (Protection of Rights) Project.
Despite all these changes, the two lesbian couples and LGBTQIA+ activists say they continue to face discrimination.
living a double life
The Madurai couple, aged 23 and 24, said fear of separation made them approach court. They spoke to HT through Whatsapp messages through an intermediary for fear that her identity would be revealed.
“We feel like we created a story in this era after overcoming each and every struggle. We still face problems, but we are happy to see people in our community come out bravely after seeing the ruling,” the couple said, calling the trial a “turning point in their lives.” A year after the trial, one of their parents has accepted them as they are and their relationship. “The other family is not even ready to understand what LGBT is,” they said.
They continue to live in fear in terms of family, educational institutions and employment. “Revealing our identity is a big problem for us. It’s like a lifelong fear. Every day we wake up very scared, but we continue to hope that everything will return to normal and that our parents will accept us. We hope the fear will fade. We also want to live our life to the fullest and together.”
Ramya recalls that after her family separated her from Nidhi last January, her uncle took her to a counselor at a government hospital. “My uncle told the doctor that I have a mental problem. I shared everything with the doctor and told her I’m not crazy, I just love another woman,” Ramya said. “The doctor gave me a clean ballot and sent me home. My family hoped that she would admit me for treatment.”
This was not before Ramya’s family beat up the two women. “We didn’t bleed, but we were hit,” Ramya said. “My mother and chitappa (younger uncle) slapped us many times. They kept yelling at Nidhi that she ruined my life. We couldn’t make them understand that we were in love. There is no place to talk about being a lesbian in a town like ours,” she said. After this, Ramya was locked up and Nidhi was taken to the local police station by the family where they contacted her brother. The duo were separated for three months. In April they managed to flee to another region.
“I studied at a girls’ school. When I was in class 9, I was confused as to why I looked at girls differently. He couldn’t be normal when he was talking to them,” said Ramya, who relied on the internet to understand why she liked to dress like the other sex. One day her mother secretly saw her wearing jeans inside her room and beat her. “I was only allowed to wear saris and sometimes a salwar.”
After completing class 12, Ramya was forced to marry when she was 17 years old. “My husband was a good man. I shared everything with him and told him I’m leaving. He understood why we never lived like a normal couple,” said Ramya.
A year later, Nidhi’s family has grown closer and visits them often. “But my family has ostracized me. They didn’t even call me for my little brother’s wedding. My father works abroad. He still talks to me, but he says if you come to see me, come alone,” he said. The two have rented a house and have kept their identity hidden from the owners of the house, as they have done in their places of work.
The Madurai couple still care about his protection. “Where we come from, if parents know their child is LGBTQIA+, they will kill them,” they said. “The law is on our side, but the people around us cannot accept us. People like to ask questions like how is it possible to fall in love with the same sex?
“Life has changed a bit. When it comes to LGBTQIA people, the police harass them, beat them up, and ask indiscreet questions. We are also human. We must be respected and treated equally. We should be able to get a job, rent a house, even after revealing our identity. But it’s hard,” they said.
Intersex rights activist and South Representative of the National Council for Transgender People, Gopi Shankar Madurai, said that unless anti-discrimination practices are accompanied by sanctions, harassment against the community will continue. “The court has given us constitutional rights, but as a statutory authority I can say that it is difficult to implement these changes on the ground without political will,” Shankar said. “A state government can overturn a court ruling by passing a resolution in the legislature.”