One of India’s foremost transgender activists Akkai Padmashali received her voter ID and will be voting for the first time in the upcoming Karnataka elections. Akkai expressed her happiness on being able to cast her vote after a long battle to obtain a voter ID.
One of India’s most prominent trans rights activists
Akkai, who was born in May 1983, endured a long journey in establishing an identity not just for herself but also for others from the transgender community who often face alienation and ostracization from the society.
Born a boy, Akkai lived a confused childhood. Struggling to identify as a male, she often wore her sister’s clothes and was most comfortable around girls. She also had to deal with the ire of her parents who out of frustration even took her to the local doctors and traditional healers to “cure” her. When Akkai was 12, she tried to kill herself twice.
Slowly but gradually she started accepting and embracing her female identity. Her brother supported her when she revealed to him her female identity and he even encouraged her to confess about the same to her parents. There was initial non-acceptance from her parents but later they too supported her identity and activism.
Over the years, she met many like her and conversed with people who were confused, exploited and lost like her.
Akkai has been one of the most vocal advocates for the rights of sexual minorities in India. She is a founder-member of Ondede (‘convergence’ in Kannada), an organisation that aims to create awareness about sexuality, sexual diversity, and sexual orientation.
She was invited by the President to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Chief Justice of India. She has also addressed audiences from Bangalore to Tokyo on LGBTQ rights.
After the Supreme Court had acknowledged ‘transgender’ as the third gender, Akkai was the first member of the transgender community to get a driver’s licence. In 2017, she got married to Vasu, her friend of eight years and fellow activist, breaking stereotypes and barriers, and increasing acceptance of the transgender community in the society.
“Will be voting for the first time”
“I will be the first person in the queue from my constituency on the day of election”, Akkai told The Logical Indian.
“Years back I had obtained voter ID card but with name ‘Jagdeesh’ and with a male identity. At that time, I did not have the guts or the self-esteem to vote. After my sex change operation, I applied for the voter ID card for three times. The first time I applied, there was no option for transgender or others in the gender column. After then, when I had my Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), I felt that I am a female and did not wish to choose the option of others. I wanted to be identified in my voter ID with the name Akkai Padmashali with female identity and now, I have finally got my voter ID. I would like to express my gratitude to the Election Commission and the Karnataka government for bringing a state policy for transgenders.”
Akkai’s organisation “Ondede” has also joined hands with the Election Commission (EC) in conducting awareness programs for the transgender community. “We had submitted a letter to the EC saying that even though transgenders are part of the society and citizens of this country, they have been socially excluded. We explained to them how vital it is to register transgenders as voters and issue them voter IDs.” She added that the EC took good note of it and this time more than 10,000 transgenders from the state would be voting in this elections.
“There are more than one lakh transgenders in the state and in this elections, more than 10,000 of them would be participating. We hope that this number increases in the coming years.”
Akkai also said that even after getting the voter ID, many transgenders are apprehensive of going and casting their votes. “In the last corporate elections which happened in Bangalore, most of us did not have the self-esteem or the confidence to vote because the people standing in the queue would make fun of us and discriminated against us. I think the common public and the government need to be educated on our issue. Without public awareness, it is very difficult to combat discrimination. One on hand government is bringing in policies, but its success depends on how people receive it.”
“I request all my transgender friends who are gender non-conforming and who have their voter ID card to actively take part in the electoral process and cast their votes to protect democracy by electing a government which supports secularism and socialism,” Akkai said.