Wednesday, December 16, 2015

India's first Transgender Police Official from Tamilnadu

K Prithika Yashini, aged around 25 years, is the first transgender person to become a police official in India.


Prithika Yashini, born and brought up as Pradeep Kumar (a Hindu male name), has applied for recruitment as a sub-inspector of police to the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB) to fill vacancies for 1087 posts. However, her application was rejected as being a transgender she did not belong to any of the two specified categories, namely, male or female. Subsequently, she challenged the decision of the TNUSRB in different courts including the High Court of Madras.

Accordingly, the High Court of Madras ordered for conducting a written test for her. The test for the recruitment comprises written test, physical endurance test and a viva-voce. With legal recourse in a competent court, she was able to lowering the minimum cut-off marks for written test for such a recruitment from 28.5 to 25.00. She could clear all physical endurance tests except missing 100 meter dash by one second. However, she was "testified" successful in the physical endurance test. In an interview, Prithika Yashini told, "I'm excited. It's a new beginning for the entire transgender community." She aspires to become an officer of Indian Police Service over a period of time.

Growing up as a boy in Salem in Tamil Nadu, K Prithika Yashini, who was then Pradeep Kumar, recalls her teenage days with horror. "I was confused and could not focus on my studies. I was even scared of telling my parents about what I was going through and it didn't help that everyone in school started teasing me." This was precipitated by the clear demarcation of gender in school toilets, particularly for a boy who was beginning to identify himself as a woman. Today, the 25-year-old beams with confidence and is all set to be Tamil Nadu and India's first transgender sub-inspector of the police.

It is also a personal victory for Yashini whose humble family origins did not make her transition easy. Her father, who was once a farmer in Salem, now works as a cab driver and her mother is a tailor. She feared that her conservative parents would not accept her desire to change her gender easily. Though she says her style and speech were more "feminine" since she was a child, her desire to undergo sexual reassignment surgery came as a shock to them. "They tried everything from 'medicines' to taking me to temples and astrologers, but I was determined." The reassignment process that began in 2011 is now complete and she formally holds a card that identifies her as a transgender woman.

She decided to move out of her parents' home during her third semester during her graduation and go 300 kilometres away to Chennai. Here, she faced harsh discrimination, especially from landlords who refused to give her a place to rent. "I still remember the first night I came to Chennai and had to spend the entire night at the Koyambedu Bus Stand," recalls Yashini, with tears in her eyes.

Her will was beginning to break, but a part of her strongly believed that she could survive this and remain true to her identity. "Wherever I went for an interview, I was literally thrown out. I had almost stopped dreaming about leading my life on my terms," she says. It took her close to six years to revive her childhood dream of becoming a police officer, during which time she worked as a women's hostel warden, in a counselling company and at a private hospital. In February this year, she applied for the post of a sub-inspector, but was rejected on the grounds that Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board doesn't have a third-gender category.

Not willing to let up, she moved the petition in the Madras High Court, which has led to her recruitment as a police officer through an interim order. But even a Court order was not enough to convince the recruitment board, which kept rejecting her application citing various "flimsy" reasons, including one where it said that her name did not tally with original certificates. It took another round of litigation before she was allowed to participate in field trials in August. Here, too, she was disqualified by 1.1 seconds in a 100-metre race. She and her lawyer, Bhavani Subbarayan, who is believed to have taken her case pro bono, persisted till Yashini was recruited.

A landmark Madras High Court judgment last week has directed the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board to include members from the transgender community under a "third category" by the time the next recruitment process begins. For Yashini, this comes as a joyful relief from her long-drawn personal and legal battle, besides, of course, giving a new sense of identity and confidence to the transgender community in the state.

Yashini, who is now anxiously waiting to begin her career as a police officer, says that she will continue to work for the cause of the transgender community and help them gain the respect that is so often denied to them. Though she has reconciled with her family, Yashini believes that there are several young children whose parents abandon them once they begin to realise that they are "different". To this end, she counsels children and their parents so that transgender men and women are not ostracised from their communities.
She talks in a measured tone, her voice revealing no emotion during the one-hour-long conversation. She has a well-framed answer to every question, probably due to her numerous media interactions over the last few weeks. But mention ‘khaki’ and her eyes light up; suddenly, she’s an excited 20-something on the cusp of a dream life.

“I can’t wait to wear the uniform,” she grins. “I will be the first transgender to don the khaki as a sub-inspector, imagine!” The 25-year-old is set to become the first trans-woman sub-inspector in Tamil Nadu and is probably the first transgender sub-inspector in India too.

Prithika’s life follows a pattern that’s similar to any transgender’s. But what makes her different, is her refusal to give up on life. She spent most part of this year in court, taking on a system that makes it a nightmare for someone like her to be treated like a normal person.

Seated in her shared, one-room home, her eyes frequently drawn to the mobile phone in her hand, Prithika remembers her teenage years as the son of a driver-tailor couple in Salem. “It was when I was in class XI that I felt different. I didn’t feel like a boy.”

Her parents, who were helpless, took her to temples, doctors and even astrologers to “set things right”. But Prithika knew what she wanted by then: friendship and a life in which she could be herself. She ran away to Chennai in 2011 and landed at Central Station, with nothing but a few phone numbers to start with.

Soon, Prithika realised transgenders accepted people into their community more readily than society; for most transgenders are quick to trust and give. “I made new friends… Banu, Selvi, Smiley, Glady, Swappna and Selvam and got a job as a warden in a ladies hostel.” She spent the next few years changing jobs and houses. “I’ve changed up to seven houses till date,” she says. “I now work for an app developer as a curator of stories about my community.”

Now that she’s in the spotlight, Prithika feels she’s in a responsible position. “I want to be an example for my community and do whatever I can for them,” she says. “I hope to become a respected sub-inspector; one who places her duty ahead of everything else.” Prithika aims to crack the UPSC exam and become an IPS officer. “There’s so much I want to do! I want to work towards reservation for transgenders in education and employment and for the cause of women and the lesser-privileged.”

But mostly, she hopes to sit quietly with a book and read. “I couldn’t read anything in peace over the last few months, let alone study for my exams. I spent most of the days I was supposed to be studying, in court. It was 10.30 at night when I got my hall ticket for the exam which was to happen the next day. I didn’t sleep a wink that night,” she says.

Those were difficult times — the unending travels to the High Court; the long hours of waiting in the premises to be called; the uncertainty — but in the end it was all worth it.