CHENNAI: Thwarting what could have been an iconic move towards establishing a trans-inclusive space in the Indian forces, the Navy decided against restoring the services of a sailor after he underwent a sex reassignment surgery.
On December 6, the country was only a step away from getting its first female sailor, but instead Navy’s ex-sailor Sabi Giri was offered the job of data entry operator with a private company affiliated with it.
Sabi’s advocate Amritananda Chakravorty said, “We had gone to the high court seeking reinstatement within the Navy as she was unfairly discharged from her service, but they (the Navy) offered her a job in a private company.” Before undergoing sex reassignment surgery, Sabi Giri says she was ‘barely surviving and felt confused and trapped’.
Speaking to the New Indian Express, Giri says she had always felt that there was “something wrong” with her body.
Conflicting thoughts about her gender always persisted, she says.
“I was 18 and scared about what would happen if I told this to someone. I couldn’t gather the courage to reveal it to my parents. So, I hid it from everyone.
“However, I couldn’t suppress the incessantly-growing uneasiness. I’ve had headaches pretty much every day. I couldn’t sleep at nights. I used to ask myself why this was happening to me…I thought I was alone,” she says.
Sabi had joined the Indian Navy seven years ago as an 18-year-old Manish Giri and her identification as a woman grew stronger when she was around 20.
Unable to cope with the depression Giri decided to get help. She consulted a Navy doctor, who diagnosed her depression as “mere adjustment issues” despite knowing that she was suffering from gender identity disorder, claims Giri.
“The Navy doctor’s treatment didn’t work and the depression never subsided. After two or three months I reported to the doctor with the same symptoms and he prescribed me the same treatment,” she said.
“When nothing worked out for one-and-a-half years, I attempted to commit suicide,” Giri added.
After two years, Giri confronted her parents, but there too she hit a roadblock. “I did not receive any support from them. They were not ready to accept that I was suffering from gender identity disorder,” Giri says.
For nearly 20 days she didn’t report for duty. Depressed, she stayed with the LGBTQ community in Mumbai where she found a quantum of solace.
“The Navy called my home and told my parents that I have been absent, without informing,” Giri said.
It was her parents who called her up, crying and told her to report back on the ship. But when she reported back she was put in Navy’s detention quarter.
“It was torturous. They shaved my head. The personnel there asked us to address them as Shriman, with our heads down. We were not allowed to make an eye-contact with them,” Giri said.
After the punishment period was over, in 2014, Giri was transferred from her command to Visakhapatnam, at INS Eksila base. When she approached the commanding officer there, he suggested her to consult a Navy psychiatrist. However, they also diagnosed her on the bases that she is facing “adjustment issues”. She later consulted a psychiatrist outside Navy.
Series of counselling with the doctor confirmed that she was suffering from ‘gender identity disorder’.
On October 26, 2016, Giri underwent the sex reassignment surgery in Delhi, while on a 22-day leave.
“I contracted infection after the surgery and underwent treatment at INHS Kalyani, for almost a month. But as soon as the doctors discharged me, I was put in a psychiatric ward for five months under observation of three male guards. They did it purposely to make me mentally unfit,” she added.
The Indian forces do not normally enlist transgender people and due to the lack of guidelines to deal with such cases, the psychiatrist at the Navy tried their best to deem Sabi mentally unfit in a bid to discharge her off the service. However, when the medical reports were sent to a senior psychiatrist in Kolkata, they were advised to strike it down.
“I kept asking the commander in chief who would come on his regular visit at the psychiatrist ward about when I’d be sent back to work but he always left me saying just one week more. But weeks turned into five months,” Giri said.
On October 4, 2017, Giri received a notice from her commanding officer asking why she underwent sex reassignment surgery. Within two days of her reply, Giri was discharged from her service without being given a proper explanation, on the grounds “service not required”. The Navy told her, “Service mai apki zarurat nahi hai. Jitni zarurat thi utnai time apko rakha.” Adding to her woes, she has been deemed illegible for ex-servicemen benefits as Giri was discharged before completing 15 years as a sailor in the forces.
The data operator job that she was offered comes with a renewable eleven-month contract and a salary of Rs 17,000 per month which is almost half of what she used to get as a sailor. Naturally, the ex-sailor is not happy with the offer.
Giri is now seeking compensation for the unfair discharge from the Navy and has already approached the Delhi High Court “to challenge the discriminatory action” and to seek reinstatement in the forces.
In another such case, Lalita Salve, a police constable in the Beed district of Maharashtra, has begun the process of her transition to physically becoming a man.
Four years ago, Salve began “developing transsexual gender symptoms”. Her medical tests showed the increased presence of the Y (male) chromosome. Doctors at JJ Hospital, Mumbai found that she has ‘gender identity disorder’ and advised sex reassignment surgery. But when Salve approached her immediate bosses saying she feels “uncomfortable living as a female” and wanted to undergo sex change surgery for which she would need leave, her application was rejected by the director general Satish Mathur based on the state’s police recruitment rules.
Police say they are in a dilemma whether Salve, who has been carrying out specific tasks as a female constable, would be fit to handle different duties altogether after surgery.
As the case went to the Mumbai High Court after the police top brass refused to accept Salve’s leave application for surgery, the court directed it to the administrative tribunal.
Salve’s lawyer Ejaz Naqvi told the New Indian Express that Salve is under tremendous psychological pressure and scared to talk.
“Trans-people have an innate and unshakeable understanding of their bodies that are different from social norms and that this understanding needs to be respected,” said Vinay Chandran, a counsellor and executive director of Bengaluru-based Swabhava Trust, an NGO working with sexual and gender minorities.
Sahodari, an organisation working for sexual minority, says the transgender are completely marginalised and sometimes pushed to the extremes. While some of them live a dignified life owing to education and family acceptance, others may get involved in activities such as begging or sex work to earn a living.