When Victorian era lawmakers dipped a pen in ink and wrote on the pages of the Indian Penal Code, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life…”, they may not have imagined that 157 years later, that ink would still prove too stubborn to erase for an independent, democratic nation of 1.25 billion people.
“Why am I a criminal?” Akkai Padmashali’s voice echoes off the walls, as a stadium filled with people is hushed into silence. Her eyes flicker. The pause is a dare to the combined force of the Indian Parliament and the Judiciary to muster up an answer. Section 377 is embedded deep in the dark side of Indian law, and the protest is becoming progressively louder. As a prominent transgender activist, Akkai is at the front of this force.
“Why did India take a neutral stand in the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting on forming an anti-discrimination law for gender orientation and sexual orientation (concerns)?” The questions are not going to rest. Abused as a child, excommunicated from family and society, raped, discriminated, humiliated, Akkai is still standing. And, speaking at a Josh Talks conference in New Delhi, she appears unafraid.
Applause breaks like thunder every time her voice rages. She might even hope that the standing ovation that resonates through the hall when she finishes will become a voice for change. Could India imagine a future where another generation of transgender people would not need to get up on a stage and ask why?