New Delhi: Padma Lakshmi, Kerala’s first transgender lawyer, chose the profession so she could speak for the voiceless. With unflinching support from family and professors, her dream was realised Sunday when she enrolled with the Bar Council of Kerala.
State Industries Minister P. Rajeev shared the news on his Instagram account with a photo of Padma Lakshmi holding her enrolment certificate. She is among around 1,500 lawyers who enrolled Sunday.
He congratulated her for overcoming “all the hurdles of life and enrolling as the first transgender advocate in Kerala”.
His post, translated from Malayalam to English, reads, “Becoming the first is always the hardest achievement in history. There are no predecessors on the way to the goal. Obstacles will be inevitable. There will be people to mute and discourage. Padma Lakshmi has written her name in legal history by overcoming all this.”
Speaking to ThePrint from Ernakulum, 27-year-old Padma Lakshmi said “advocacy is a noble and respectful profession.
“(There are) so many legendary lawyers in our country — Harish Salve, Prashant Bhushan — all are inspiring people.
“In life, there are different situations and circumstances that render us voiceless… Advocacy is the best profession to raise my voice. I want to become the voice of the people who are facing injustice,” she added.
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Support from family, seniors
Lakshmi, who identifies as a woman, finished her 3-year law degree in 2022 from Government Law College, Ernakulam, which she said was very “interesting”. Her professors, she added, were supportive all through.
Prior to her law degree, she pursued BSc (Physics) from Bharata Mata College, Ernakulam.
“(My college had) very interesting days. My teachers, Dr Mariyamma M.K. and former principal Dr Agitha T.G. were always positive and supported me. (They said if)… you have to achieve more, study well and concentrate on your journey, don’t think about anything negative, you can achieve your dreams,” she said.
On whether she faced discrimination for being transgender, she said, “I am not interested in thinking about discrimination (I experienced). My aim (is) to speak for (and) raise my voice for those facing discrimination and injustice.”
For Lakshmi, the youngest among three sisters, her parents and siblings have been her true support and inspiration. When she came out to her parents — her father, a contract worker, and her mother, a clerk with an advocate — they were very accepting, she said, adding that she received the same kind of support from her senior, advocate K.V. Bhadra Kumari, and other lawyers at the Kerala High Court.
‘Constitution a weapon against discrimination’
Lakshmi said transgenders are discriminated against in every arena of public life, and change is possible only by way of powerful legislation and enforcement of law.
As a lawyer, she said, her focus will be on the rights of transgender persons, and any section that faces discrimination. Lakshmi believes that the Constitution is a weapon that is like a “clarity book”, which enables the fight for justice. “We have a weapon. That is a clarity book, our Constitution, so you can fight for justice,” she said.
She said she would willingly share her law books with anyone from the marginalised sections who is aspiring to be a lawyer. “l have to do more for my community as well as anyone facing discrimination,” she said.
She herself worked as an agent for a private insurance company and LIC and also gave home tuitions to meet her medical and education costs.
Talking about recognition of same-sex marriages in India, an issue that will be taken up by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court next month, she said she is “curiously waiting” and hoping that the apex court delivers a positive judgment, along the lines of the 2018 Navtej Johar case, which struck down IPC Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality.
“(Being a lawyer) is a responsible profession. I have lots of responsibilities to fulfil…I’m not interested to say I will do this or that… I wish to take action and not just talk.”
The Election Commission allowed transgender persons to vote by providing the ‘Other’ category in voter registration forms in 2009. In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised them as the third gender, saying that the fundamental rights will be equally applicable to them and that they have the right to self-identify as male, female, or third gender.
It also held that transgender people be granted reservations in admissions to educational institutions and jobs.
Last month, however, the Social Justice Ministry informed the Lok Sabha that there was no proposal to bring in reservations for transgender persons in education or employment.
In 2017, Joyita Mondal became India’s first transgender judge when she was appointed to the Lok Adalat of Islampur in West Bengal.
The next year, the country got its first transgender lawyer when Sathyasri Sharmila enrolled in the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu And Puducherry.
The same year, transgender activist Vidya Kamble was appointed a member judge in a Lok Adalat in Maharashtra’s Nagpur, and Swati Bidhan Baruah became the third transgender judge with her appointment as a member judge in a Lok Adalat in Assam’s Guwahati.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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