7 Indian Transgender Trailblazers who Broke Barriers

We explore seven Indian transgender trailblazers who have overcome significant barriers, inspiring societal change and advancing equality.

"Let me fight for my community members."

Transgender individuals in India face widespread discrimination and harassment as dominant societal groups impose rigid norms upon minorities.

Despite this challenging environment, beacons of hope continue to shine, fighting for their rights and their community’s liberties.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment recognising a third gender, officially granting the transgender community a legal identity.

While this was a historic win, complete acceptance and integration of transgender individuals into Indian society remains a distant goal.

Nevertheless, a few voices are working tirelessly to make this a reality.

Here are seven transgender community members who broke barriers.

From India’s first transgender police officer to a human rights activist advocating for tolerance, these seven women stand as formidable soldiers in the battle for liberty, challenging taboos at every turn.

Akkai Padmashali

Indian Transgender Trailblazers who Broke Barriers - akkai

Human Rights Activist

Akkai Padmashali is the founder of Ondede, an organisation that strives to create awareness about sexual diversity.

She was born into a middle-class family as Jagadeesh.

As a child, she would dress up in her sister’s clothes and played with other girls, things her family beat her for.

They even tried to get her ‘cured’ by doctors and healers.

The ordeal led to two suicide attempts at the age of 12.

Her grandmother, a trained Carnatic vocalist who used to teach music to several children in the neighbourhood, wouldn’t let her sit in, worried that learning music would ‘influence’ her.

But as her confidence grew, Akkai confided in her brother, who supported her transition into a woman and spoke up to their parents in her favour.

During her time as a sex worker, Akkai witnessed widespread sexual violence and discrimination, and she was motivated to join the NGO Sangam which works with sexual minorities.

She said: “Why should I die? Let me fight for my community members. I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders.”

In 2014, the International Bar Association conference in Tokyo invited her to speak about legal rights of sexual minorities.

She also became the first Indian transgender woman to get a driving licence with her gender stated as ‘female’.

Today, she stands as a vocal transgender rights activist and has become an extremely respected name in Bengaluru.

K Prithika Yashini

Indian Transgender Trailblazers who Broke Barriers - prith

India’s 1st Transgender Police Officer

On November 5, 2021, K Prithika Yashini was appointed as a police sub-inspector, making her India’s first transgender police officer.

When she first applied for the post, her application was rejected by the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB) as her name was different to the one on her birth certificate, which was Pradeep Kumar.

Eventually, she fought for her rights and the first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayan called for her recruitment.

Madras High Court said: “There was absence of any column for third gender, though this aspect now stands enunciated by the judgement of the apex court which carves out the category of third gender for the purpose of safeguarding and enforcing properly their rights guaranteed under the constitution.”

Prithika’s victory is both a personal triumph and a crucial step toward India legally and officially recognising the transgender community as a third gender.

Manabi Bandyopadhyay

Indian Transgender Trailblazers who Broke Barriers - manabi

India’s 1st Transgender Principal

Born Somnath Bandyopadhyay, Manabi lived much of her life in a man’s body she did not identify with.

Fighting discrimination for years, Manabi saved enough money and underwent a sex change operation in 2003.

As a professor of Bengali literature, her reputation as an educator bore fruit in June 2015 when she became India’s first transgender principal of a government education institution.

Appointed to West Bengal’s Krishnanagar Women’s College in Nadia district, Manabi’s voice continues to be a strong one for the LGBTQ community and their human rights struggle.

In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, she said:

“I am fighting and I will keep at it. Nothing happens in India for the good of anybody who chooses to be different.”

“You can pass laws but you cannot change the people.

“It’s a fact that man is free but everywhere he is in chains. I agree with that. It has taken a lot, but I have cut loose somehow.”

Madhu Bai Kinnar

India’s 1st Official Transgender Mayor

India has had transgender mayors in the past, such as Asha Devi and Kamla Jaan.

But Madhu Bai Kinnar is India’s first officially recognised transgender mayor since the Supreme Court recognised a third gender in 2014.

Not only did she fight the stigma of being transgender but she is also from the Dalit caste.

She defeated BJP candidate Mahavir Guruji at Raigarh’s Municipal Corporation elections.

Before assuming office, Madhu earned a living by taking up odd jobs and by singing and dancing on the streets of Raigarh and performing in trains going on the Howrah-Mumbai route.

After winning the elections by over 4,500 votes, Madhu said:

“People have shown faith in me. I consider this win as love and the blessing of people for me.

“I’ll put in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams.”

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

1st Transgender Person to Represent Asia Pacific at the UN

As a transgender rights activist and the subject of the autobiography Me Hijra, Me Laxmi, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi has a lot of accomplishments to her name.

She became the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific at the United Nations.

Laxmi has also represented the transgender community and India on various international platforms such as Toronto’s World AIDS Conference.

Her autobiography details her struggle and the ordeal she faced.

Having to deal with sexual and verbal abuse, her family never supported her sexual choices but she found strength and understanding from her parents.

Laxmi says: “The book is about my life.

“It has everything from the numerous love affairs I have had to finding solace in Mumbai’s bars.

“From mental and physical abuse to finding a life of grace, dignity and fame, it is about Laxmi, a person who recognises herself as a hijra at present proudly.”

Padmini Prakash

India’s 1st Transgender News Anchor

Padmini Prakash is India’s first transgender news anchor, appearing on Tamil Nadu’s Lotus News Channel in August 2014.

It was a 7 pm primetime slot and was widely acclaimed by audiences.

Previously, she focused her time as a transgender rights activist.

Her appointment as a news anchor came after TV executives Sangeeth Kumar and Saravana Ramakumar were returning home from work and saw some transgender people being mistreated.

This made them reflect on the negative attitude towards transgender people. They subsequently decided to give Padmini the opportunity to become a news anchor.

Activist Anjali Ajeeth said: “Padmini’s assignment carries a message about this neglected community.

“Since they are not socially acceptable, they cannot display their talent.

“Such is the situation today that some of them are in the sex trade or forced to beg on the streets.”

Rose Venkatesan

India’s 1st Transgender TV Host

Rose Venkatesan is an engineering graduate and growing up, she had a lot to deal with.

She was kicked out of her home because her parents disapproved of her cross-dressing and “other girlie ways”.

Rose ultimately decided to have a sex change operation in Thailand.

In 2008, she made her TV debut, hosting the talk show Ippadikku Rose.

As an important voice for the transgender community, Rose said:

“I believe transgenders are also members of the general public, but we are isolated in the society.”

“I am highly educated. I have international experience. I am confident. I can talk well.

“Why not make use of my ability in a constructive way? This way, I want to change the way Indian society looks at us.”

In a country where societal norms often marginalise those who dare to be different, the achievements of these seven Indian transgender trailblazers stand as powerful testaments to resilience and courage.

Each of these individuals has not only broken barriers in their personal and professional lives but has also paved the way for greater acceptance and understanding of the transgender community.

Their stories of perseverance and triumph inspire us to continue striving for a society where diversity is celebrated, and every individual, regardless of gender identity, can live with dignity and respect.

Dhiren is a News & Content Editor who loves all things football. He also has a passion for gaming and watching films. His motto is to "Live life one day at a time".

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