Akkai Padmashali, an award-winning transgender rights activist, has been a vocal advocate of LGBTQIA+ rights for years. And now, she is all set to take this fight to the bigger stage, as a member of the Karnataka Congress. With her oath-taking ceremony scheduled for Sunday, Akkai will become one of the first transgender persons joining a political party in Karnataka.
“In order to bring about changes and effect outcomes that can help the transgender community, one has to become a part of the system to drive the change. This decision has been a hard one but I have decided to take this step to bring issues related to sexual minorities to the forefront,” Akkai says.
TNM spoke to Akkai ahead of her oath-taking ceremony and here are excerpts from the interview.
I felt that this is the appropriate time to enter politics. There is a threat to constitutional values and the idea of inclusivity. It is the need of the hour to start dialogues and bring issues related to transgender persons and sexual minorities to the forefront. This step will help legitimise issues of gender and sexual minorities.
I believe the Congress is the best party to talk about these issues. There is unemployment, especially among gender minorities; the issue of the Women’s Reservation Bill needs to be prioritised. I believe the Congress is a party where there is a platform to bring to fore issues that women and sexual and gender minorities face.
I want to focus on implementation of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgement of 2014 and also the Supreme Court’s verdict reading down section 377 from the Indian Penal Code in 2018. In political parties, there is no space or forum to discuss these issues. I believe that a political party having a representative from the transgender community, gives entire southern India a boost.
I believe with the system of effecting outcomes through legislation. Without being a part of the system, there is no way to bring change for a socially inclusive society. The Congress has worked for gender minorities since Indira Gandhi's times… There were free of cost train services for transgender persons, free housing for trans persons in Maharashtra and other parts of the country. The core value and principle of the Congress is “my nation”.
The Congress first proposed that I join the party in 2009. I have taken my time to make the decision. I held discussions with DK Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah and also Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dey and they are welcoming of inclusivity.
Our issues are also important. There are a lot of expectations from me, and it is not easy. But I want to make a huge difference.
My primary focus would be bringing up the issues pertaining to gender minorities. To bring the perspective of women in electoral politics. I want to start a civil society movement on how to implement the NALSA and 2018 SC verdict. The other issues I want to focus on are unemployment, and how it has affected minorities including transgender persons.
In the context of youth, people are completing education without job opportunities and the government has to be held accountable for the state of our economy.
Talking about constitutional values and rights is also a priority. There is also so much intolerance in the country and dissent has been curbed, but dissent is my right! There is a threat to the Constitution. I think my country needs to be reminded of the secular principles in our preamble.
On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court’s verdict (repealing section 377). When it was challenged in the Supreme Court, I was one of the petitioners, who challenged it on grounds of right to privacy and dignity. The Supreme Court, while reading down section 377 in 2018, had in fact said that society owes the community an apology.
I think this is the appropriate time to legalise same-sex marriages. People are in a better place to understand what gender and sexuality is. There is a need for public education and discourse, starting from schools and colleges.
There has to be more dialogue so we get a sense of what community members want and go from there.
On October 25, 2017, Karnataka Cabinet approved the Transgender Persons Policy. The policy is fine but has not been implemented yet.
Many people want to quit begging and sex work and want alternate job opportunities and the government has the power to do that. But the government is not doing anything to implement the policy. It is shutting its eyes, ears and mouth. For how many days do we keep knocking on the government’s door? This has been pending for a long time and about time and I would urge the government to implement the policy immediately.
There are elderly transgender people who are living difficult lives due to stigma and lack of financial security. There is a need for short-stay homes as well as old age homes for elderly transgender persons. The existing old age homes are not trans friendly. There is a priority to take care of elderly people within our community. The top priority of the community, which have been ignored are shelter, good food and economical sustainability.
The government can make changes to help our community – whatever we can do as NGOs, we are doing and trying to support people. But ultimately, the government should take responsibility. For one, it needs to increase our pension from Rs 600 to Rs 5,000 per month. In addition, free housing and medicines must be provided.
There is rarely any discourse about LGBTQIA+ relationships. So, people rarely see that there is domestic and sexual violence [that is happening in these communities as well]. We need to be talking about this from a societal, legal and public policy perspective.
When it comes to rights, few people have access to court judgements and information about them. People from rural areas may not be aware, for instance. Therefore, public education about gender and sexuality has to be a priority.
From marriage, adoption, identity, to relationships in the LGBTQIA+ community, there are many issues that need to be brought forward including domestic violence. We have this patriarchal view in our country that ‘domestic violence’ refers to a husband abusing his wife or in-laws abusing the daughter-in-law. What about domestic violence that members of the LGBTQIA+ community face from their biological families?
The current legislation has cis women and men’s perspective. It should be LGBTQIA+ inclusive and gender neutral. The women’s rights movement has supported LGBTQIA+ issues and through the Congress party, we want to address these issues in depth.