Getting a passport is supposed to take around 45 days. But Akkai Padmashali, a transgender and sexual minorities activist, had to wait 95 days to get hers.
She claimed that her ordeal finds resonance among many transgenders who talk of delays in obtaining documents and tedious procedures at passport offices. Akkai, who was earlier Jagadish J, wanted a new passport to show both her new name and gender. She changed her name in April this year. Akkai said she had all her documents in place when she applied for a passport on June 6. However, it took her several trips to the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Koramangala to finally get the passport in hand on September 17.
By then, Akkai had already missed a conference of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community that was held at Geneva in July and for which she had been invited to represent sexual minorities in India.
“Had I received my passport on time, I would not have missed it,” said a visibly upset Akkai. She demanded that the Ministry of External Affairs make special provisions in this regard for transgenders, especially those who undergo sex reassignment surgery. “Most of us are shunned by our families who snatch our documents. After that, if we undergo sex reassignment, it is harder for us to prove our identity,” she said.
She had held a passport since 2009 under her previous name. “With my previous passport, I travelled to Bangkok and Sri Lanka to talk of issues faced by the working class of sexual minorities, especially those into sex work. Once I underwent surgery last year and was declared a phenotypic female, it has been a tremendous struggle,” she said. Vani S (name changed) had to wait more than a year to get her passport. She alleged that she was treated badly by PSK staff, who did not accept her application initially as she was a transgender. She then escalated the matter to the RPO, Koramangala, which issued her passport after two months.
However, Regional Passport Officer (RPO) P S Karthigeyan denied any such discrimination and affirmed that any candidate with correct papers will be issued a passport. “In some cases in which a court order is required, they will have to produce it. If there is any discrepancy in the name, gender or appearance of an applicant, the PSK cannot take a decision when it comes to our table,” he explained. He added that an applicant’s gender or name was not the RPO’s business as long as they had proper documents.
Seema (name changed) is a web designer who is in the process of arranging her high school certificates, voter ID card, PAN card and gender certificate after undergoing sex reassignment surgery. She said that the process has already taken more than six months. “The documentation itself is taking so long. After I submit it at the passport office, I don’t know how long I will have to wait,” she said.