In what is claimed as a first in the country, Kozhikode resident Anamika Leo became the first transgender referee to officiate a recognised sports event in India.
On 29 January, Leo officiated a Kerala state-level Kurash competition held at MES College, in Ernakulam’s Perumbavoor, organised by the Kerala State Kurash Association.
Leo, herself a Kurash player, has already secured the licence to officiate competitions. However, for Leo, the path towards achieving the feat was a difficult one.
A transwoman, Leo, has previously represented Kerala in Kurash competitions at the national level twice and also had stints as an athlete in events like judo and shotput.
Kurash — meaning reaching the goal with the just or fair way in the Uzbek language — is one of the ancient martial art forms, dating back to more than 3,000 years. It is an upright jacket grappling form which originated in what is today Uzbekistan
Transgenders are one of the most stigmatised groups in society. Post-transition stigma experiences among transgender individuals have received limited attention. The same is the case with 29-year-old Leo.
Speaking to South First, Leo said the stigma still exists in the country when transgenders indulge in sports at a professional level.
She said even the thought process of sports associations is in binaries. She lauded the Kerala Kurash Association for taking “a big step forward”.
“I have known her for the last five years and she is an excellent athlete. All we had to do was to provide an environment for her to come forward and perform like a normal athlete,” Rajan Varghese, international referee and technical chairman, Kurash Association of India, said.
Varghese, also the general secretary of the Kerala Kurash Association, coached Leo in the sport.
As Leo’s sisters were judokas, she took to judo at a younger age. Apart from Kurash, she has also participated in judo, shotput and ju-jutsu competitions.
In 2019, she won the gold medal in shotput in the Calicut University’s Interzone Transgender Athletic Meet
She is now pursuing a Master’s degree in International Finance from Calicut University.
Wanted: A transgender policy
On 15 April 2014, the Supreme Court directed the central and state governments to grant legal recognition to transgender identity.
Following the directive, Kerala implemented a transgender policy, making it the first state in the country to have such a policy.
Speaking to South First, Leo said although the Kerala government has a transgender policy, it does not have clear laws in the domain of sports.
She called for a national sports policy for transgenders to overcome the several hurdles her community members face while participating in sports events.
“Each day is a struggle for a transperson — from the moment s/he announces her/his identity. Participating in a prominent event is a difficult thing,” she said.
“If there is a transgender policy in India for sports, then it would ease our complications. At present, transgender policies in sports are available in nations like New Zealand, the UK, etc. As India doesn’t have such a policy, we have to fight legally before each event,” she said.
Leo thanked the Kerala Kurash Association for giving her the opportunity to officiate in the competition despite the stigma.
“I have experienced of sports bodies prohibiting me from events since I am a transgender. We can say that there is hardly any sportsperson who is a transgender in Kerala. There are numerous hurdles for a transgender, especially in sports, as they (sports bodies) still think in binaries of men and women.” she added.
Leo also recounted an instance when she was disallowed to compete in a district-level judo competition. Later, she had to file a case in the high court.
The high court judged that every Indian citizen has equal rights and until transgenders have a separate category, the event should be held according to international rules that allow transwomen to compete in the women’s category.
Leo was allowed to compete after the court ruled in her favour.
Sports should be inclusive
Anil A, a queer ally who has been working on issues pertaining to transgender communities told South First that policies in the field of sports should be inclusive.
The 2014 Supreme Court judgment primarily stressed on the issue of inclusiveness of gender minorities, he pointed out.
“Certain women in the field of sports, too, are opposed to transwomen participating along with other women. Their opinion should also be considered and technical issues related to this problem should also be taken into account,” he opined.
However, Anil said there aren’t enough transgenders who participate in sports activities and governmental intervention is needed to equip transgenders and provide them with a friendly ecosystem in sports.
He also recounted the period when there was a lack of women athletes in many of the sports events in the country.
“This cannot be done all of a sudden. The situation will gradually change,” he added.
Anil suggested that an expert committee should be set up by governments to find a solution to the issue, after weighing the opinions of all stakeholders.