'My parents were there to see me enrol as a lawyer. From afar itself, I could see tears in their eyes.'
'Three days after, I appeared in court for my first case, and my father was there to see me. He had tears in his eyes.'
'And even before I completed two months as an advocate, I won a case!'
There are thousands of lawyers in India. Then what makes lawyer Padma Lakshmi different?
She is the first trans woman lawyer from Kerala.
On March 19, 2023 when she enrolled herself as a lawyer with the Bar Council of Kerala, she created history.
'Congratulations to Padma Lakshmi who overcame all the difficulties in her life and enrolled as the first transgender lawyer in Kerala,' tweeted P Rajeev, Kerala's law minister.
'Being the first is still a tough feat in history. There are no predecessors on the way to the goal. There will be many obstacles. There will be people to silence and push back. Surviving all this, Padma Lakshmi has written her own name in legal history,' the minister explained.
Will her achievement change the way society perceives trans persons?
Perhaps, it may take many more Padma Lakshmis to reach that stage.
That's why through her every public appearance and every interview, Padma Lakshmi wants to make a change; make society accept trans persons as human beings, one among them, and not people to be ridiculed and shunned.
"If my story can inspire at least one person to come out of the closet and achieve something in life, I am happy," Padma Lakshmi tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
You are described as the first transgender lawyer from Kerala. Do you like that description? Or, would you prefer to be known as just lawyer Padma Lakshmi?
I am proud to be the first transgender lawyer from Kerala.
Do you know why? Because transgender is associated with 'third gender'.
If we are third gender, who is the first gender? Who is the second gender?
Many of you look at males as first gender. Why can't women be the first gender?
Article 14 says all are equal before law. When our Constitution talks of equality, how can you name us as third gender?
I want people to understand that we are not third gender, we are transgender.
And I proudly say, I am a transgender lawyer.
If my story can inspire at least one person to come out of the closet and achieve something in life, I am happy.
For that, they need to hear positive stories.
You want to be an inspiration to others?
Yes, that's what I genuinely want, and work for. That's why whenever and wherever I get a chance, I talk.
I say two things, one to the parents of transgender children and second to their children.
I tell these parents, whatever they are, they are your children.
In court, I have seen parents trying hard to get bail for their children who have dealt with drugs. They shed tears for these children.
They have no qualms protecting their children who deal with drugs, they are not ashamed. But they are ashamed of their transgender children.
Their only thought is, what will others say?
But they are not bothered about what others say even if their children are drug dealers or criminals.
You are not a terrorist. You are just talking about your gender. But no, they are still ashamed of you.
These parents vehemently say that their children are innocent, they are framed and they will never commit a crime.
The time has to come when parents can say without shame, yes, my child is a trans woman or a trans man or gay.
Have they committed any crime? Have they done anything on purpose? No. Yet, why is it that parents are ashamed of them?
Do you feel only when you are described as a transgender lawyer, can you aim for change and acceptance by society?
Yes, I want to be known as a trans woman lawyer.
By doing so, I want parents to encourage their trans children to achieve what they can, instead of discouraging them.
It is only when you are accepted and allowed to do what you want to, you flourish in life.
What we want is protection, love and acceptance from our families, and not rejection.
I had interviewed many trans persons and one thing everyone, without exception, told me was the rejection, violence and anger they had experienced as children at home and in school. This forced them to run away from home.
But I have read that your parents were different, and they accepted you as you are, and you still live with them....
Yes, my story is entirely different. That's why I tell all the other parents that if we are accepted by our parents, it is half the battle won.
I tell them to accept their children as they are, as a trans child. They are not terrorists or criminals or people who would do harm to society.
Where else can a child share his problem, but with his parents? Can he go to the neighbour and pour his heart out?
I tell children not to take any decision in haste which will land them in trouble. They will end up in wrong hands, doing wrong things.
This is no easy journey. They cannot expect their parents to accept them the moment they tell them.
They have to be a little patient with their parents.
I tell them it is for their own better future that I ask them to be patient.
Many of them had told me that they were abused violently by their parents. Some were even taken to psychiatrists and given shock treatment. In such a situation, how can they be patient? They run away to escape from abuse and rejection...
I have also spoken to so many of them. I can understand what they go through.
I know a boy in Kottayam who lost his life when his angry elder brother hit him with firewood on his head when he said he was a trans woman.
Society has to change. That's why I speak at any opportunity given to me.
This is not an easy journey...
How was your childhood? Was it difficult when you realised you were trapped in a wrong body?
I will never say that it was easy.
Even when I was as young as a six year old, I knew I was a girl.
I still remember wrapping myself in my mother's sari and wearing my elder sister's school uniform. looking at myself in the mirror and feeling so happy.
I did this only when I was alone at home.
I didn't feel I was doing anything wrong till I reached the fifth standard.
By the 8th standard, I thought I was the only one in the world who felt like this.
Why did you think it was wrong?
Because in front of society, I was a boy. To my parents also, I was a boy. But I felt like a girl and wanted to dress like a girl.
So, I felt it was wrong of me to do so.
How did the other boys treat you in school?
From the 8th standard onwards, other boys had started teasing me for the way I walked, for the way I used my hands while talking, etc.
I didn't know what was happening to me. That was when I read in a paper that people cross dress because of sexual deformity.
I felt so unhappy thinking I had some dreadful disease.
There was no mention of the word transgender in the article, and I also was not aware of the word.
I was a boy to the world, but I felt I was a woman. I was totally confused.
I thought I was going mad. I couldn't sleep at nights. I cried a lot.
When I was in the 10th standard, I went to a Net café and typed, 'How to become a woman'. That was when I learnt the word transgender.
I also learnt that it was a very long process to be a woman; you had to undergo counselling first, then hormone therapy and then surgery.
I also read that there were people like me in Mumbai, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu and many other places and life as a transgender was not easy.
What I read terrified me, and I decided to continue as who I was.
To avoid interaction with others, I chose to study science as in science classes, students are generally busy.
I studied hard and got the first rank in school.
I also realised that when I was under stress, I worked hard and in the process, achieved what I wanted.
In the 12th standard also, I worked very hard and passed with good marks.
I started looking at those who teased me in a positive light. If they had not teased me, I would not have studied so hard.
When did your parents come to know about your identity?
They had a clue in the beginning itself, from when I was dressing up like a girl.
My mother knew I wore her saris when she was not at home.
They didn't ask me anything as I was a good student. I studied well and behaved well.
They never had any problem because of me. Nobody complained about me. I went to school and college regularly, studied hard and got good marks.
Slowly I started feeling angry and irritated with my body. The same way a trans man hates periods, a trans woman hates facial hair.
That was when I started counselling. I was 19-20 then.
Why did you decide to study law?
My father always used to say, there is nothing more satisfying than being able to talk for others.
I had told myself then that I was a trans woman and my life would be different from others and there was no pint in living for myself alone.
I had to do more, and I chose Law as I thought it was a powerful profession which I could use as a tool to help others.
In a way my life changed after I met Dr Mariamma, a professor at the Government Law College, Ernakulam.
I spent a lot of time at college with Mariamma Miss and she became my guide, mentor and confidante.
By this time, I had started hormone treatment too.
Did your parents know you were going for treatment?
I had told my mother that I was attending counselling. Nothing more than that.
I had told my doctor in the beginning itself that I wanted to tell my parents I had followed all the protocols in my treatment, and I didn't jump to surgery.
I wanted them to know that it was not a hasty decision that I opted for.
While I was studying law, I was undergoing changes because of the hormone therapy, and Mariamma Miss was the person to whom I confided everything.
She was very understanding and appreciated my decision to live as who I am, and not as somebody else.
In fact, she asked me whether I wanted her to talk to my mother. I said, no because I wanted to be a professional and independent when I tell my parents the truth about myself.
When did that moment come?
Actually, what happened was something unexpected.
It was my final semester exam. Generally I close my door and study, coming out in between to get water.
One day, as I was walking back to the room, my father called me, 'Padma Lakshmi'!
He then said, 'Study well for the exam!'
I was so shocked that I stood still for a moment.
Did your father see your Facebook page and discover your name?
Yes. My profile picture was one wearing a sari.
That night, they came to my room several times to see whether I was okay. I was overwhelmed by their love and concern for me.
Can you believe I scored the best marks in that semester?
My father used to tell me every day, don't think of anything else, but your studies.
Next time when I went to see my doctor, my father came with me. He told the doctor my child is a transgender. Please do tell us what the next step is.
And my mother was calling father several times from her work place.
My eyes welled up and I became emotional at the beautiful way my parents accepted me.
All the trans persons I talked to had years of rejection before getting acceptance from their parents. This is the first time I am hearing such a story from a trans person. Have you ever expected this kind of warm acceptance from them?
My father always used to tell us I will see to it that my children are protected as long as I am alive. I will be there to see nothing bad happens to my children.
I was confident that my parents would accept me as I was. But my counsellors used to warn me, don't be so confident. You should be prepared for everything.
Which is the most memorable day of your life, the day you enrolled as a lawyer, or the day you argued your first case, or the day you became Padma Lakshmi?
For me, every step I took in my journey as Padma Lakshmi is unforgettable.
Every single day in my life as Padma has been thrilling.
I was an introvert who could not utter a word in front of others, today I argues my case in front of so many people.
I speak for hours these days. That's only because I am happy and confident as Padma Lakshmi.
When I became me, my confidence level rose to the highest level.
I imagined the enrolment day as my wedding day. I dressed in a sari, wore make up, and went for my enrolment.
My parents were there to see me. From afar itself, I could see tears in their eyes.
Three days after, I appeared in court for my first case, and my father was there to see me. He had tears in his eyes.
I got a positive verdict in my very first case. And even before I completed two months as an advocate, I won a case!
I work really, really, hard, because law is not just a profession for me, it is my life.
My dream is to start a Trans Legal office with branches in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi and Maharashtra where young people can fearlessly enter, do internship and work.
It will be a workplace where there will not be any discrimination, gender, religion or caste.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com