By Sandhya Ravishankar
To become India’s first transgender police officer, K Prithika Yashini had to pass a tough exam – that of ascertaining and sticking with her gender identity.
As far as inclusivity in schools goes, a learning centre in Kochi is setting the bar pretty high. Sahaj International, which was inaugurated recently, will help transgender adults complete their education. The residential centre is specifically aimed at adult dropouts who have been unable to complete schooling due to the stigma associated with their gender or sexual identity. So far, the centre has enrolled 10 pupils, aged between 25 and 50.
It is no surprise that the initiative was unveiled in Kerala, the first of our states to have a policy for transgender people, aimed at ending discrimination against them. In fact, our southern states, including Tamil Nadu, have shown the rest of the country the path they ought to follow. In November 2015, K Prithika Yashini became India’s first transgender police officer.
Yashini’s journey was nothing short of an ordeal, but she was not about to allow a piece of paper to defeat her. In February 2015, when she responded to a Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board call for police sub-inspectors, her application was rejected because her documents listed her original birth name and gender: Pradeep Kumar, male. The board could not understand how Pradeep Kumar had morphed into Prithika Yashini.
Four years prior, Yashini had undergone sex reassignment surgery to leave behind the body that hadn’t felt her own in 21 years. To make this leap of faith, she had fought her family and every social convention, but this country’s bureaucracy was yet to catch up with her. So Yashini petitioned the Madras High Court pointing out that the application form had only two genders, when the Supreme Court had accorded third gender status to hijras and transgenders in April 2014. The battle continued for nearly a year, but in the end, the court ruled in her favour.
Yashini aced the physical tests, including the 400-metre sprint, long jump, and throwball, missing out on the 100-metre sprint by a second. With solid interventions from the court, which expressly directed the Tamil Nadu police to hire her, she finally became a sub inspector in November 2015. In doing so, Yashini ensured a place for herself in history: Not only did she become India’s first transgender police officer, her case also pushed the Tamil Nadu civic administration to include the third gender category in all recruitment forms.
This legacy sits easy on Yashini’s small, lean frame. As she steps off the local metro on a cool Friday afternoon in Chennai’s Nungambakkam, she tells me she is wearing a red top because she wants to be “visible”. But she needs no help in that department, considering the number of TV appearances and interviews she’s had in the last few months, detailing her incredible journey from Salem.
Yashini, born Pradeep Kumar, had always felt more like a girl than a boy. “I always had feminine habits,” she recalls. “I played games that girls play, and preferred being with girls over boys.” She was constantly teased by her classmates and peers at the Neelambal Higher Secondary School. “It got so bad that at one point I couldn’t use either the male or female toilets,” she says. Bad enough for her to attempt suicide twice.
In 2011, Yashini had undergone sex reassignment surgery to leave behind the body that hadn’t felt her own in 21 years.
By the time she was 16, she decided that she was in fact a woman constrained by a male body. It still took until her final year as a computer science graduate, to inform her parents about her decision. As expected, that did not go down well with her shocked family – 50-year-old father Kalaiarasan, a truck driver, 45-year-old tailor mother Sumathi, and brother, Rahul Kumar – who dragged her from temple to temple, in the hope that the gods would intervene.
In living this life as a free spirit, Yashini has become a hero for both men and women. And everyone in between
When the gods failed, her family reposed their faith in medical science. Yashini was taken to the Ayanavaram Mental Hospital in Chennai. “I still remember one patient there who kept hitting his forehead with his palms and repeating, ‘amma onnu, appa rendu’ (one mother, two fathers),” she says. “It was a terrible situation.”
By 2011, she had had enough. The only way to maintain her sanity was to run away to Chennai in the hope that the city would offer her the asylum of anonymity. There would also be support – her new life in the metropolis started on a lucky note when she befriended two other transgenders, Bhanu and Selvi, at the bus station itself and moved in with them. To support herself, Yashini got a job as a warden in a girls’ hostel, where no one knew about her gender, and later at the NGO Thozhi, that helped other transgenders cope with their identity.
At the same time, Yashini also started the process of her own transition at the Kilpauk Medical Hospital and College in the city, undergoing six months of intensive counselling, tests, and hormone therapy. The actual surgery took only about four hours. “I was terrified,” she says. “But the desire to be a woman was more than the fear of pain.” It was three months before Yashini could get back on her feet.
In the intervening years, Yashini hasn’t once broken her stride. She’s worked as an app developer and plans to appear for the IPS next. In living this life as a free spirit, she has become a hero for both men and women. And everyone in between.
Sandhya Ravishankar is an intrepid traveller and a news junkie based in Chennai. She is part of the team at 101reporters.com.
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