Thiruvananthapuram- Pioneering a path is undoubtedly challenging, and despite the perception that the struggle ends with being the first, the truth is that each subsequent step is fraught with difficulties. Padma Lakshmi, as the inaugural transgender lawyer in Kerala, understands this reality but has chosen not to succumb to societal pressures. Confronting persistent transphobia, the lawyer has taken a bold step by filing a complaint, initiating a determined battle against a society that adheres rigidly to binary norms.
The Mooknayak spoke to Lawyer Padma Lakshmi, in order to have a deeper understanding of transphobia that is prevalent in the Indian institutions.
Opening up about her difficult path, Padma Lakshmi said, “A government official called me ‘man madam’! When I saw a government official using such derogatory terms, I could not keep quiet anymore. She is the face of the government, and such a person should not be eligible to chair such an important position. I too am paying taxes like any other individual. Why should I pay the salary of such a person who is openly disrespectful to me?”
“Even though I have directly faced these comments, this matter is for the entire community. If inside the court, people are using such unspeakable terms, this makes me ask about the situation outside the court. The community people are already struggling at workplaces. People are not ready to understand or accept us. Everyone thinks only in terms of binaries.”
Talking about legal protection, or more suitably the lack thereof, the lawyer said, “Section 36 of the Advocates Act bars professional misconduct. Transphobia and Queerphobia should be considered as misconduct, but till now, they aren’t thought to be so. Section 11 of the Trans Act is very important. It states that ‘every establishment shall designate a person to be a complaint officer to deal with the complaints relating to the violation of the provisions of this [The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act] Act. But there is no one to listen to my objections.”
“The law is being used against the queer community, which is an irony in itself. In the Indian Penal Code, as per my knowledge, there is no term as ‘transpersons’. Only binary genders are mentioned. So, the IPC can easily be used against us.”
The lawyer revealed that transphobia had become a part of their daily life. They said, “This matter is not a one-day offense. It has been coming from different advocates. My seniors have also been passing comments on me. I neglected all of the statements made by private lawyers, but when the government official started passing comments, I decided to step up. I have been facing malicious online trolling as well. According to some advocates, I am ‘doctored’ and so not a complete person.”
They further disclosed the reason for not taking any names in the complaint. They said, “Unfortunately, transphobia has fans. I have not taken any specific names because I do not want to provide advertisement and a fan following to such people.”
The fight against queerphobia is a constant battle. The lawyer said, “This is a war. A war for the next generation of queer lawyers. I am not going to stop.”
Talking about the future that awaits, Padma Lakshmi revealed, “I already talked to an honorable justice. The Chief Justice is currently not in the station. He will be arriving on Monday, so I will be present in the High Court then for the proceedings.” They have formally lodged a complaint with Law Minister P Rajeev and the Judicial Registrar of the Kerala High Court. The complaint addresses instances of discrimination and verbal mistreatment, specifically from senior lawyers, including a government pleader.
Read the Whole Complaint Here:
A copy of the complaint has been posted on the Facebook profile of the lawyer. It reads as follows.
To Law minister Kerala From Adv. Padma Lakshmi:
I am Adv Padma Lakshmi, a trans woman, having an office "Law Access." These past few days, I have been going through very unpleasant situations and want to uncloak here. After going through my plight, please give aid to ease my condition. I need to be incorporated into society, instead of living in this isolation that they have manufactured for us.
Gender Abuse: "I am not allowed to earn a livelihood of my own doing my job. Or am I not allowed to live as a trans woman? The distinction, mental harassment, gender abuse experienced from the government pleader who is handling the responsible position at the Hon'ble High court. I had this bad experience from an Advocate who is also in a very respected post of Government Pleader - On 27/07/2023... the matter listed in Court, Hon'ble judge Nagaresh sir. and for the same when asked "Will the case be called or not?" What I heard in reply is not expected from a person holding such a responsible position - The reply was- 'Isn't it the case of 9? I came out of the courtroom very heartbroken and spoke to the Government Pleader about how she behaved in uniform in the Courtroom.
Tell me what I did wrong? Is this equality? Why am I Marginalised? During my budding period, I also had a senior lawyer who said that 'you all are standing in a uniform inside the court is a scam of LDF's power. The problems are quite complex ones. After experiencing many problems, I decided to start my own office. Another government pleader- Their accusation against me is that I have no "guruthwam." Such a low-quality presentation was made on Facebook, which is a public platform. As soon as I made this complaint public, they withdrew the allegation and blocked me on social media. Are they trying to say that if I start MY own office, I won't have "gurutwam"? I'm sorry; I don't know. I started my office as a reply to the lawyer who said that sex work is the right job for transgender people. I am a human being struggling to survive. I just wanted to live peacefully. Let me live with the case and files I have. Please let me live and work with peace. I am submitting this complaint out of fear that the two government pleaders mentioned are highly influential and goodwill people. They are highly opinionated individuals. Everyone will come to save them, and I am afraid that I will be alone. This is the separation that I am experiencing. Like other advocates, I also entered this noble profession with fire and passion. To get an identity, to fight for the poor, bring justice as much as I can. But, it is hoped that an inquiry will be conducted, and appropriate action will be taken. All respects”
Padma Lakshmi has made history in Kerala by becoming the state's inaugural transgender lawyer, successfully enrolling as an advocate with the Bar Council. Among the 1,529 law graduates celebrated at a recent event, Padma received her Bar enrollment certificate. Following her completion of a Physics degree, she pursued an LLB at Ernakulam Government Law College. Looking forward, Padma aspires to undertake the judicial service exams after gaining practical experience in the legal field. This accomplishment not only marks a personal triumph for Padma but also represents a significant step toward inclusivity and diversity within Kerala's legal community.