Seated on a white plastic chair, clad in black and white alongside 485 of her fellow law students waiting to begin their legal career, Satyashri Sharmila listened intently for her name to be called out at the Bar Council.
After a decade-long wait, the moment she had been dreaming of finally arrived. Satyashri became the first transgender woman to enroll as a lawyer in the TN bar council.
Satyashri, who hails from Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu, had always dreamt of being a lawyer. After completing her basic education in Paramakudi, she moved to Salem to pursue law. She completed her law education in 2007.
Speaking to TNM, she says, “From a young age, I knew I was not a boy and that I was a trans woman. I used to be curious about the lives of trans communities. I wanted to know how much they are respected, how they are discriminated against, what their income generation is like, etc.”
She adds that her identity is that of a trans woman and she wanted to make a life for herself.
“I began to focus on my studies. I finished my undergraduation. It was my father’s wish as well that I become a lawyer. And I knew law would help me in the future.”
When it came to enrolling as a lawyer, Satyashri refused to be bogged down by the gender binary columns in the application forms.
“After I completed my law degree, when it came to enrolling to the Bar, I wanted to enroll as a trans woman. At that time, there was no recognition for the third gender in India. It was only after the 2014 NALSA judgement did the third gender receive recognition. And slowly, they started including the third column in government application forms,” she shares.
Naturally, when Satyashri approached the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, they were shocked to know that she was applying to the bar 11 years after graduating.
“When I went to apply, they asked why I was applying after such a long gap. I told them, I wanted to enroll as a trans woman. They then said they would support me in every way. They said that the Bar Council wanted to encourage trans women like me to come up in life. They motivated me.”
However, as someone who has been subjected to abuse and discrimination over her identity her whole life, Satyashri knows all too well that the battle is not over.
“The battle is not over. So far, my focus has been enrollment and now that is done. I hadn’t even thought about practice since enrollment itself was a question mark. In a few places, they have yet to add a third gender column for the trans community. Tamil Nadu is a little developed in this regard but in other places more needs to be done.”
Satyashri shares that the trans community faces issues aplenty.
“When it comes to the livelihood and income generation of trans communities, there are a host of problems. When they do sex work, false cases are filed on them. The list is endless. To put it simply, each trans woman faces numerous issues just to get past one day of her life,” she says.
Satyashri recounts the kind of discrimination she faces in her daily life.
“When we take the local train, even if it is packed, people will think twice before sitting next to us. There will be no space even to stand in the train but the seat next to us will be empty. The smallest of things become a huge problem. For a third person, not sitting next to me may be a very small thing. But they don’t know how much it affects me mentally and how depressing it is. Only I know the pain.”
Satyashri now wishes to resolve these systemic issues faced by her community.
“With my intelligence and hard work, based on my own experiences and the experiences faced by the future generations as well, I will work to solve these issues,” she vows.