Wanted to serve India, what’s my mistake?: Sabi, the trans woman fired by Navy for transitioning

In an exclusive interview, Sabi Giri tells TNM that she will go to the Supreme Court if she has to.
Wanted to serve India, what’s my mistake?: Sabi, the trans woman fired by Navy for transitioning
Wanted to serve India, what’s my mistake?: Sabi, the trans woman fired by Navy for transitioning
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October 6 started like any other day for Sabi Giri. Little did she know that the day would progress to confirm her worst fears.

Sabi, a trans woman, first came into the limelight when she stood to lose her job in the Indian Navy because she underwent a gender affirmation surgery. And on October 6, that's exactly what happened. Around 10am, she was handed a letter telling her that her services were no longer required in the Navy.

“It hasn’t been good,” Sabi tells TNM five days later, sounding weary. “I asked them why they were firing me when they handed me the document. They just said that I was not required in the Navy anymore,” Sabi narrates.

“I went into shock,” she adds.

The 25-year-old has served in the Navy for seven years and was posted at the INS Eksila base in the mechanical engineering department. It hurts her that those years of service meant little to her employers just because she identified as a woman.

“I wanted to serve my country, which is why I joined the Navy. That hasn’t changed. So what mistake have I done? I am neither a terrorist, nor a thief nor a spy. What is my crime to be given such a severe punishment for my passion?” Sabi argues.

Sabi goes on to discuss the Indian Navy Act, 1957, which was introduced by British rulers years ago. 

Article 9(2) of Chapter 4 of the Act mandates women as ineligible to be appointed in the Indian Navy “except in such department, branch or other body forming part thereof or attached thereto and subject to such conditions as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf.”

But Sabi argues that this is a regressive provision and not relevant to today’s day and age. “Now there is so much progress. We have so many well-educated people in power. Why should an archaic provision stop people like me who have the required skills, simply because they identify with another gender?” Sabi asks.

“Now, there are so many educated and skilled women and trans women, they are not allowed to serve in the Navy. They talk about women empowerment, but where is the practice?” she questions.

Indeed, there has been talk of allowing women in combat roles in the army. 

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently said that she will give the matter serious consideration. Army Chief Bipin Rawat made similar claims in June, as did former President Pranab Mukherjee in February last year. Similar promises have been made in the past years, but so far, little has been done to implement it.  

Sabi asserts that she has the same rights as any other citizen of the country. 

“And yet, they didn’t even think about my future, my career… I was ready to work in another department, even desk work, if that’s the only place women in the Indian Navy have. They want output, and I could give them that. But they chose to fire me. This is blatant discrimination!” she says.

She knows that it could be a long battle ahead, but Sabi is determined to fight for her rights. “I will go to the Armed Forces Tribunal and am prepared to go the High Court and Supreme Court as well,” she says.

At the end of the day, Sabi says, the battle is not just hers. “It’s not about one Sabi Giri. It’s about all the other Sabis in the future. Today this has happened with me, but it shouldn’t with anyone else. I will fight for my justice,” Sabi asserts.

Sabi’s story

Sabi joined the Indian Navy when she was only 18. Assigned the male gender at birth, Sabi's identification as a woman grew stronger when she was around 20.

Despite having told mental health professionals and her peers about how she felt, Sabi did not receive support or help.

Finally, around May last year, she consulted a private psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with Gender Identity Disorder. Soon after that, Sabi began hormone replacement therapy. And 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.

However, right before she was to return to work, Sabi contacted Urinary Tract Infection. But choosing not to extend her leave, she came back to Eksila and consulted the Navy doctors. While her UTI was cured in a month, the news of her gender affirmation surgery became public knowledge.

What followed was months of mistreatment, which included six months of being kept in isolation in a male psychiatric ward. But when the doctors did not find Sabi mentally unstable, they had to release her. Sabi believes this was part of the Navy’s attempt to find reasons to relieve her from service.

In April this year, Sabi was released from the psychiatry ward. However, things quickly went downhill because women cannot serve in the armed forces as soldiers, which was the rank Sabi held.

“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?” Sabi had told TNM

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