Trans girl murdered in TN: Why India’s preference for birth families is dangerous

17-year-old Dakshayani was murdered, allegedly by her own brother. But the Rights of Transgender Persons Act insists on birth families as legal guardians for trans kids.
A group of women and trans women with cards protesting against the Transgender Persons Act
A group of women and trans women with cards protesting against the Transgender Persons Act
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A 17-year-old transgender girl was murdered in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district, allegedly by her brother who did not approve of his sibling’s gender identity. The teenager’s name was Dakshayani, according to trans community members in Salem, and she was murdered at Thuttampatti village of Salem district on August 30. The Tharamangalam police arrested 25-year-old Selvaraj, who reportedly said that he killed his sibling because he viewed her trans identity as a ‘shame’ to his family and relatives.

Selvaraj and Dakshayani were reportedly living with their relatives after their parents died. Rakshika Raj, a social activist and one of the first out trans women to work as a nurse at the Chengalpattu GH, says, “Ever since Dakshayani started expressing her gender, she has faced abuse from her family. Over time, she befriended a few trans women in Salem and ran away to Chengalpattu, because living with the abusive birth family became difficult for the minor.”

However, because Dakshayani was a minor, this posed a lot of challenges for herself and the community. Legally, a minor has to be in the care of their birth family, or in a rehabilitation facility — but only if ordered by a court. While trans persons through the ages have found their chosen families within trans communities, the Rights of Transgender Persons Act, 2019, does not recognise the community as “family” — and insists on trans children, who often face abuse from their birth families, to stay with them. While transgender communities across the country opposed the Bill when it was introduced in Parliament, it was still passed by the government and is in force currently.

Further, as TNM has reported earlier, LGBTQI+ teens in India have barely any support, as queer organisations and community members are not allowed to provide them any assistance, and can be legally prosecuted if they do so.

In Dakshayani’s case, when she ran away to Chengalpattu, the community members she turned to had no choice but to take her to a police station, where the officials decided to return her to her birth family. “Dakshayani stayed in Chengalpattu with other trans women for close to 15 days. During that time, none of her family members came looking for her. As there are already false allegations against trans persons forcibly changing children’s sexuality, we had no choice but to call Dakshayani’s family or contact the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU),” says Rakshika.

“As Dakshayani was refusing to go back home, a few trans women, almost three months back, visited Salem and handed over Dakshayani at Tharamangalam police station. There, in front of the police and officials from the DCPU, Dakshayani’s family gave it in writing that they will take care of her. However, to my shock I read about her murder in a Tamil daily recently.”

According to a report in The Hindu, on August 30, the teenager insisted on going back to Chengalpattu and living with the trans persons there. Due to this, an argument broke out between her and her brother, and an infuriated Selvraj stabbed Dakshayani with a knife.

Dakshayani died on her way to hospital, and the Salem police arrested Selvaraj on August 31.

Rakshika says “Beyond just the arrest of the accused and some media coverage, this incident calls for an inquiry and better laws to safeguard lives of members from the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Trans activists have been calling for changes to the legal framework around trans people for a long time now, and have been condemning the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which in fact denies rights and protections to trans people in India. Many have cited violence from birth families while opposing the law, but it wasn’t taken into consideration by the Parliament. Speaking to TNM, trans activist Grace Banu says, “I have come across many incidents where transgender persons are abused by their own family members. The first case of abuse for most transgender people starts at home. Hence birth families are in most cases not accepting and safe for transgender people.”

Speaking about the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and why it needs to be strengthened, Grace Banu says that violence against transgender persons must be looked at through the lens of casteism and patriarchy. “Firstly, in our society identifying as a trans woman is seen as something demeaning,” she says, “Secondly, there is no special Act or commission specially for transgender persons. Even if a transgender person is murdered, the accused is let out on bail in no time. Both in life and in death, we are given no justice. Hence a protective law must be brought in, in other words, Transgender Persons Act must be strengthened,” says Grace.

Listing some of the vital changes in the Act, Grace says that the Act must bring in strict punishment for violence against trans violence and murder of trans persons; a set of guidelines must be rolled out for setting up shelter homes; and the Act must empower trans persons with legal right in cases of rape and caste discrimination etc.

“There is only one shelter home in Chennai for the whole state. This is not adequate and the number of homes must be increased. When any trans person stays at the shelter home, the government — through the Act — must ensure the person’s safety and prevention from sexual, mental, physical and societal abuses,” adds Grace.

Speaking to TNM, M Sree Abhinav, Salem Superintendent of Police says, “This incident clearly points at the overall societal issue in dealing with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Addressing this, in Salem we have started several awareness programs to all children including non-binary kids. And as per recent Madras High Court order, the district police are also sensitised in handling cases related to LGBTQIA+ community. Hence all persons can contact the police. Besides being more sensitive towards LGBTQIA+ issues, safety will be paramount for all genders.”


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