Forced into mental hospital, dragged to court, Kerala trans woman finally gets freedom

Arundhati wants to build a career in playback singing and looks forward for leading a life of her choice.
Forced into mental hospital, dragged to court, Kerala trans woman finally gets freedom
Forced into mental hospital, dragged to court, Kerala trans woman finally gets freedom
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"Cut your hair short, cut your nails short, cut them, cut them off… This is what they kept telling me,” says Arundhati. “But then I did not. I found ways to do what I wanted, to dress the way I felt," she adds.

This self assertion by the transgender woman from Kerala irked her parents so much, that they dragged her to court when she chose to leave their house. Arundhati's mother moved the Kerala High Court with a habeas corpus petition weeks after she left home, alleging that members of the transgender community had illegally detained her 'son.' And after a legal battle where the judges even ordered a ‘medical assessment’, Arundhati has finally emerged victorious.

Last week, the court ruled that Arundhati "has the right to wander about or associate with like minded people" and cannot be compelled to live at her parental home.

But the journey to freedom was hard, even torturous at some points.

'I am a woman trapped in a man's body'

For as long as she can remember, Arundhati has always liked and done what the society said were things meant for women: From dressing up in her elder sister and her mother's clothes away from the eyes of her family, to taking immense interest and joy in singing and Indian classical dance.

When she danced to a popular Malayalam song at the age of five, her family members took pride in her talent. But when she continued to dance, her mother stopped sending her for dance classes.

"The feminine characteristics in me were quite evident,” Arundhati tells TNM.

By the age of 15, the tensions of living in a body that did not feel right, disturbed her beyond measure. She spent hours reading up and researching about gender identities and was relieved when she realised that she was not alone.


Growing up, Arundhati began to grow her hair longer and paint her nails, a visible transition from how she carried herself. This disturbed her middle class, religious family.

Having had to take breaks from studies to start earning in order to support her family when financial crisis struck, Arundhati began to participate in stage shows. She studied music for 12 long years and this helped her carve out a space for herself and get more opportunities to perform.

"At these shows, I met more people like me. I used to travel a lot to sing at stage shows and stayed away from home for weeks together. By the time I turned 20, I started to dress in women's clothes, but only when I stayed away from home for stage shows," Arundhati says.

A year ago, she told her mother that she was not what they wanted her to be. Her mother, who she says was the one who argued with other children when they made fun of her for behaving "like a girl," quickly turned against her.

Days at a mental hospital

After Arundhati told her mother about her gender identity, they forcefully put her in a mental hospital. Even the doctors and other hospital staff did not ask any questions. The first thing they did at the mental hospital was to chop off her nails painted in bright colors and cut her hair short.

The one and a half months that followed were pure harassment, with countless injections forced on her.

After her parents took her back home, she says that she began to plan for her future, an exit.

"I began to prepare for a life I wanted to live. I got in touch with many community members, attended several community events and worked hard to make money. By this time, I had joined a degree course in distance education," Arundhati says.

Finally four months ago, Arundhati left home. But her parents approached the police with a missing person complaint. When Arundhati went before a magistrate at Aluva court, the judge allowed her to do what she pleased.

But little did she know that her parents would go to any extent.

"My parents moved the HC. I appeared before the court and I shared my heart out with the judges. I told them that I was a woman. But then they gave more importance to my mother's words and ordered a ‘gender test’. I was devastated, I was pushed down to sadness again. I was put up in a mental health centre for examination and I feared that the episode at the mental hospital will repeat. I was scared. Am I not the one who should decide who I am? Am I not the one who should be heard?" she asks.

The medical team, however, negated her mother's claims that Arundhati had "extreme mood disorders" and that she had psychiatric issues. Following this, the court set her at liberty.

More dreams to fulfill

Arundhati says that she wants to become a playback singer one day. Community support has helped her wade through a tough phase in her life and she says that what a person cannot achieve individually, can be achieved through group effort.

"I have suffered so much, and now I want it all behind me. I want to appear for my examinations next month and get a good job," says Arundhati who is pursuing third year in BA English.  

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