“If I still have the courage to pull the trigger to shoot an enemy, if I still have the skill to do my job, why is my gender a problem?” Sabi asks.

They put me in psychiatric ward for 6 months says trans woman who may lose Indian Navy job
news Discrimination Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 16:10

Sabi Giri was only 18 years old when she joined the Indian Navy. The Visakhapatnam based officer takes pride in her potential, and was delighted when she got selected into the mechanical engineering department of the navy.

But today, at 25, Sabi risks losing her job, simply because of her gender.

Assigned male gender at birth, the young woman recently decided to transition, and underwent gender affirmation surgery (also known as sex reassignment surgery) in October 2016.

Now, Sabi fears that she may lose her job in the navy, all because she decided to tell the world that she identifies as a woman.  

Sabi, who serves in the INS Eksila base of the navy, told TNM that her Commanding Officer (CO) had sent her papers to the Naval Headquarters in Delhi. She alleged that they want the senior command to intervene, so that they can relieve her from her post.

“He (CO) first sent me a show cause notice, saying that I did not inform the authorities before undergoing my surgery. But I had told them how being in a man’s body was affecting me. I was getting suicidal thoughts,” Sabi says.

Sabi is skeptical about the authorities’ decision being in favour of her continuing to work in the navy. However, she is ready to fight for what she believes is her merit, and her right. “I am ready to go to the Supreme Court if the need be. I have done nothing wrong,” she asserts. 

It wasn’t that Sabi didn’t try to seek help from her peers or the doctors in the navy. “I used to tell my peers here about how I felt. They said that it was just a phase I would grow out of,” Sabi says. When she approached the navy doctors, they apparently told her that while her condition wasn’t unheard of, they couldn’t help her.

Finally, around May last year, she consulted a private psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with Gender Identity Disorder. Soon after that, she began taking hormones; in October, Sabi took a 22-day leave from work and went to Delhi to undergo the surgery which would make her look the way she felt.

But just before she was supposed to return to work, Sabi contracted Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). She decided to report back to Eksila base instead of extending her leave, and consulted the navy doctors once again. While the UTI was cured in a little over a month, that she had undergone a gender affirmation surgery was now public information.

“My seniors were unhappy with me. My friends stopped talking to me… Perhaps they didn’t accept me as a woman, or they were afraid of falling into the bad books of the senior officer by associating with me. I don’t know. The people who did speak to me would call me at odd hours and proposition me for sex,” Sabi rues. “I’ve been very lonely,” she adds softly.

Sabi’s troubles were far from over. Soon after she was treated for UTI, she was placed in a psychiatric ward. Sabi alleges that she was kept in a male ward for six months. She says that she was kept in isolation, with three guards who kept an eye on her 24x7.

“Maybe they were trying to find a reason to fire me by proving that I was mentally unstable. It was very difficult there. I felt depressed and kept getting headaches. They put me on medication, and I took it because they told me it was for the headaches I got. But I didn’t seem to be getting better, nor did I understand why I was there,” Sabi recounts.

During this time, she was also referred for a week in December to Command Hospital in Kolkata. A copy of her psychological evaluation accessed by Sukhdeep Singh of Gaylaxy reveals that she was diagnosed as a “late onset transsexual” and as “showing a strong degree of gender dysphoria.” There was no negative comment on her mental health otherwise.

In April this year, Sabi was released from the psychiatry ward. While she initially resumed her services as a woman, things went downhill quickly once again.

According to Ajit Kumar Dubey’s report in India Today, the maritime forces are looking to take action against Sabi as women cannot work in the armed forces as soldiers, which is the rank that Sabi holds.

Over the past few years, there has been much discussion about having an equitable representation of women in the armed forces, even in combat positions. "If they do decide to terminate me from my current position because I am a woman, they should give me another post in the naval forces where I can serve as a woman," Sabi says.

The Navy Act meanwhile, does not have guidelines for a case where a person has transitioned. It also means that there’s no rule which bars such a person from serving in the navy.

TNM was unable to get in touch with a spokesperson from the Navy despite mutliple attempts. However, a senior source in the Navy had confirmed the developments in Sabi's case to India Today. "We have recommended her discharge from service and proceedings in this regard have been initiated and she would quit soon," the source was quoted as saying. 

Sabi’s family’s reception of her gender identity has been much more welcome than her peers and seniors in the naval forces.

Her question to the navy is simple: “They selected me because of my potential and my talent right? If I still have the courage to pull the trigger to shoot an enemy, if I still have the skill to do my job, why is my gender a problem?”

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