She had attempted suicide twice by the age of 12, gang-raped when she was 16 and became a sex worker at 19, abused by crooks, criminals and even law-enforcers. Then Akkai Padmashali decided to fight back and live with her head held high, without conforming to the norms set down by an uncaring society.
Today, Akkai, 32, is the voice of the country’s transgender community, a tireless crusader for the rights of thousands of sexual minorities fighting for respect and equal opportunity in society.
“I was born a man with a penis, but I am a woman without a vagina. Is that a fault? I am no thief, no anti-social, then why should I be treated like one?” Akkai questioned during an interview to Hindustan Times over on phone from Bengaluru.
One of the crusaders behind the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict on April 15, 2014, that recognised transgenders as the ‘third gender’, Akkai is the founder member of the Bengaluru-based NGO Ondede which works for dignity and sexuality of women and transgenders.
But Akkai’s thoughts right now are on the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 which was passed by the Rajya Sabha this April and was supposed to be discussed by the Lok Sabha in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.
“I urge our parliamentarians to support and ensure passage of the earliest for the welfare of the community,” Akkai said, echoing fellow-activists who have been pressing for an legislation which will give equal rights and reservation to transgenders.
For Akkai, like for many others of her ilk, the demand for a legislation is borne years of harassment and abuse.
Born Jagadeesh, Akkai was the second of three siblings who had fallen in love with her mother’s sarees, ‘bindis’ and anklets at the age of six. Akkai was soon to realise that that ‘he’ was actually a ‘she’ trapped in a male body.
At the age of 30, she was India’s first transgender to get a driving licence (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
“I tried to share my feelings with my mother, but she refused to understand…When my father came to know about my feminine leanings, he put me under house arrest for three months. I was not allowed to go to school or play with my friends…He even poured hot water on my legs,” recalled Akkai.
Over the next few months, the crisis within the adolescent deepened.
“At 11, I tried to commit suicide by hanging myself, but somehow I survived. But my parents still refused to understand my feelings. Instead, they took me to doctors and even seers to cure me. I again tried to kill myself.”
The struggle and trauma had just begun for the adolescent, whose physical attributes no longer matched her psychological state. Intrusive questions and indecent touches followed the teenager everywhere.
“Some of them wanted to know what sex I belonged to, others about my private parts…Then one day four of my classmates (at a research and technical institute) took me to a toilet, where they put their hands into my private parts and then raped me…They sprayed semen all over me,” she recalled.
It was then that Akkai decided to quit studies and take up work. It was on the way to her office that Akkai met a few transgenders near Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park. As she spoke to them, she felt a sense of belonging.
Akkai became a sex worker in 2001. For the next four years she was sexually exploited by thugs and police.
Akkai is the founder member of the Bengaluru-based NGO Ondede which works for dignity and sexuality of women and transgenders. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
“They used to take us to police stations and make us clean toilets, polish their shoes and force us to have free sex with them without condoms. We were so vulnerable that we could not even protest,” the human rights activist said.
Then Akkai joined a local NGO that was working for rights of people belonging to the sexual minority.
Since 2004 Akkai has been mobiliing people belonging to the sexual minority, interacting with lawyers and politicians to create a political and legal atmosphere conducive for the community.
At the age of 30, she was India’s first transgender to get a driving licence, stating her gender as female. She then lent her voice to ‘Songs of the Caravan’, the country’s first music album by a transgender woman.
She was also the first transgender to be invited by President Pranab Mukherjee to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 39th chief justice of India Altamas Kabir in 2012. In October 2014, she was the lone transgender representative from India to address the International Bar Association’s conference in Tokyo.