Meet Sathyasri Sharmila, India’s first transgender lawyer

By Prarthana Mitra

The LGBTQ community of India has just crossed another milestone as 36-year-old Sathyasri Sharmila enrolled herself with the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (BCTNP), thus successfully, becoming India’s first transgender lawyer.

Hailing from Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district, Sharmila’s inclusion underscores the importance and lack of adequate LGBTQ representation in society-building apparatuses such as law, education, politics, police.

Breaking barriers and beating odds

Born in a conservative family as Udhayakumar, Sharmila did not have an easy life, but she has also never been one whose will could be easily broken. Following continual harassment and abuse from neighbours, she left her home at the age of 18, altered her name and completed her undergraduate degree in Commerce. Having always taken an interest in giving back to the community, Sharmila then pursued law from Salem Government College in 2004.
There she faced unique problems like accommodation for trans students in hostels and realised that validity is legitimised only by one’s identity. Having enrolled as a man, Sharmila could not possibly demand to stay at the women’s hostel, but she strove to overcome all odds.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, she said, “I was still not confident about the treatment meted out to the transgender community in the society. But I believe things are gradually changing for us.” Having waited a decade, Sharmila decided it was time to register with the Bar and embark on the journey she had set out on. “We are beginning to be recognised after the Supreme Court registered us as third genders in 2014. Therefore, I thought the time has come to register myself as a lawyer. Serving the community is my priority now,” she claimed.

“I have struggled a lot in my life. I expect that people from my community will do well and serve at higher positions across the country,” Sharmila said after her enrolment.

The crosses we bear

In 2015, India’s first transgender college principal in Krishnanagar, West Bengal, Manabi Bandyopadhyay, was forced to resign after the relentless backlash she faced every day at work.

Last week, Quint reported the testimony of a transgender teacher in Kolkata who was harassed and humiliated during an interview for a teaching position. These cases serve to highlight the deep-seated animosity and misunderstanding, often stemming from lack of knowledge, towards anyone not conforming to the binaries of heteronormative gender codes and sexuality.

Additionally, only a handful of our educational institutions offer gender-neutral wings in their hostels even now.

Nonetheless, progress with inclusivity in India has been slow but steady. Last year, Prithika Yashini became the first transgender cop in the country and continues to serve the nation with honour and dignity. Representation of the marginalised transgender community in law and law enforcement will certainly make India better equipped in protecting their rights to safety and justice. Sharmila’s victory is a huge step towards ensuring the same.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius