Akshitha was found beaten up and unconscious in her house in Salem. She died on December 14. But her mother, Uma Devi, knew about the attack all along.

Collage of two photos of a transgender woman
news Crime Wednesday, December 22, 2021 - 19:36

A young transgender woman from Salem in Tamil Nadu was beaten into an unconscious state, while she was sleeping in her house on December 13. Akshitha lost a lot of blood and she was left with her bones broken. A day later, she died. It has now been revealed that the attack was planned by her mother P Uma Devi who wanted to murder Akshita for being transgender. The police have now arrested Uma Devi and five men who had conspired and murdered the young trans woman. They have been charged under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code and remanded to judicial custody.

The crime has once again put the spotlight on the violence that transgender persons face from their biological families, and the lack of legal and government measures to ensure trans persons can live independently and safely. There are hardly any shelter homes for transgender persons who want to leave their biological families and don’t have the means for earning a livelihood. For most trans people who run away from home fearing violence and threats to life, living with trans communities is the only option. But legally, trans communities don’t have any legal protection, especially if the family alleges that their child is a minor, opening up the trans community members who offer refuge to legal persecution. 

In fact, in Akshita’s case, she has had to face a court case because her mother had earlier gone to the police when she ran away to live with a transgender community in Bengaluru. Despite her being an adult, the police decided to file an FIR on the basis of Uma Devi’s missing person complaint, and produced Akshita before a court. 

In July 2021, the Suramangalam police in Salem received a ‘boy missing’ complaint from 45-year-old Uma Devi, who said that her only son had been missing. After an extensive search, the police found that Akshitha was in Bengaluru. “She did not want to come back home, stating that she was facing discrimination from her family (comprising her mother),” says Sivakumar, Inspector of Suramangalam Police Station who investigated the case. 

“She is an adult and she can live alone. But based on her mother’s complaint, we had filed an FIR (first information report). So Akshitha was brought back to Salem and the case went to the district magistrate, who ruled that as Akshitha is a major, she can live where she wants and need not live with her biological family. Following this, the 19-year-old left for Bengaluru as she did not wish to live with Uma Devi,” Sivakumar says. 

However, according to the police, Uma Devi had been facing rebuke and stigma from people around her and she wished to bring Akshitha back home and make her undergo conversion therapy. Unable to accept Akshitha’s gender identity, Uma Devi wanted to take her to Villupuram to undergo ‘hormone treatment’, according to reports

“The mother tried to convince her to come to Salem. However,  Akshitha was sure that she would not. Finally in an emotional appeal, Uma Devi asked Akshitha to come and visit her, which Akshitha did. She came during Deepavali and stayed with Uma for a few weeks. However, Akshitha would roam around town and spend nights outside or return home late at night. This was causing Uma Devi distress as she worried what people around her would say. She feared societal backlash and gossip about her and Akshitha spreading in Salem,” Sivakumar says. 

To make sure Akshitha does not step out of the house, Uma Devi took the help of her acquaintance Venkatesh, 46, who runs a fish stall and a hotel in the vicinity. Venkatesh further roped in his friend Kamaraj, 40, to look for ideas to make Akshitha stay back. According to the police, Uma Devi asked them to threaten and beat up Akshitha to ensure that she doesn’t get out of the house. On December 15, Monday, three men entered Akshitha’s and Uma Devi’s house in Jageer Ammapalayam. When Akshitha was sleeping, the men beat her up.

“The men were hired by Kamaraj who works in the roofing business and regularly deals with contract workers. So he got the three of them — Sanjay, Sivakumar and Karthikeyan — to beat Akshitha up. After entering the house, one of the men put a blanket around Akshitha’s face while the other two hit her on the legs and hands, fracturing her limbs,” Sivakumar says. 

Soon after, Uma Devi, who was wholly aware of the pre-planned attack, came back home and took an unconscious Akshitha to a private hospital. The 19-year-old was critical and was referred to the Salem Government Medical College and Hospital, where she died on December 14. 

Transphobia in biological families 

Speaking to TNM, trans activist Grace Banu says that frequent killings of trans people, especially deaths such as Akshitha’s, are due to lack of adequate laws and government intervention to protect the rights and interests of the trans community. 

“We only have only law — the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 — to protect the rights of people in my community. Compare this to cisgender women and the number of laws they have in place for protection. Moreover, why can’t an adult trans woman or trans man who wishes to move out of their house do so without interference from the police and the courts? Akshitha was 19. She was an adult. Yet, she was forced to return to her family and had to go to a magistrate to be allowed to live independently,” Grace says, adding that extreme stigma and transphobia prevalent in society make parents want to attack or kill their transgender children. 

“About two months ago, I dealt with another case of a 17-year-old transgender girl from Thoothukudi who ran away after she realised her gender. She began living with trans people in Madurai while her parents were searching for her. When we found her, the police asked us to bring her back to Thoothukudi. In the station, the parents of the transgender girl said they wanted to take her back home, wring her neck, and kill her. They were from the Thevar community and they kept saying that the child brought disgrace to the whole community,” Grace says, explaining how community pride, stigma and transphobia intersect in many cases. Further, long drawn battles for custody in court can be an emotionally scarring experience for a young trans person, she adds. 

Transgender teens and minors 

When it comes to a minor who identifies as transgender, the law either allows custody to the biological family (who may try conversion therapy on the child and mentally scar him or her), or the child is sent to the custody of the CWC (Child Welfare Committee) and put in a government home with other children.

“The first government home exclusively for transgender children was proposed in Bengaluru only in 2020. We do not have exclusive homes for transgender teens or minors. So when transgender children who are in need of care and protection are produced before the CWC, they are unable to see these children in existing care homes. Even if they are admitted to these care homes, these transgender teens and children face abuse, mental harassment and transphobia in these shelters,” Grace Banu says.