On Sunday, 19 March, 1,500 students of various law schools in Kerala were sworn in as lawyers at an event held at the Kerala High Court in Kochi.
This year’s enrolment ceremony was different from similar events of the past. Among the 1,500 students, the first person to be enrolled as a lawyer was Padma Lakshmi, a 27-year-old transwoman from Kochi.
She thus scripted history, becoming the first trans person to become a lawyer in Kerala.
Padma Lakshmi told South First that the road to becoming a lawyer was not an easy one, and she had to struggle to reach her position.
Lakshmi, who is a graduate in physics, worked as a life insurance agent for LIC and Star Health prior to enrolling as a lawyer.
The hurdles she faced couldn’t hold her back from pursuing her passion and, according to Lakshmi, it was all because of her sheer dedication and hard work.
‘A powerful profession’
Lakshmi told South First that being a lawyer is a powerful position as it is a tool to empower people’s lives. She said that living in this society is difficult for any uneducated person and the challenges are even higher for a trans person.
“Being silenced is painful. Sometimes, we are helpless especially when it comes to documentation. For a trans person, even changing the name, address, or gender on an Aadhaar card becomes an arduous process, although it is a fundamental right,” she said.
“Education becomes an utmost importance and being a lawyer is a powerful profession and requires utmost responsibility in dealing with public matters.”
Lakshmi said that she was not the brightest student in her class, but her will and hard work helped her become a lawyer.
“I was not the smartest student or a genius; all I did was work hard. If you start listening to the negative comments and remain home, you will continue to stay there. You need to face the world and get educated,” she said.
“Financial constraints will be there and we will not have a luxurious life, but what gives you more happiness than earning the money after doing labour?” asked Lakshmi.
Also read: Karnataka: Transgenders in Udupi set up eatery, start new life
A lawyer for the vulnerable
Lakshmi said that even though transgender persons are facing numerous problems in society, her focus will not be limited to only helping those from the queer community. She wants to help all vulnerable people across society.
“I want to help the marginalised not just the queer. I will help any person who faces injustice with whatever is possible through legal means — that is my responsibility. Any human being can come to me if they need help. My life has been a struggle and I won’t hesitate to fight for those who face injustice,” said Lakshmi.
Having said that, she added that issues of transgender people cannot be ignored as they are serious in nature.
“For accommodation, transgender children who are abandoned by their families are charged high rents for their stay. The availability of counselling centres is limited for transgender persons who have to cope with hormonal issues. A transgender cell clinic is only available in one medical college in the state. There are numerous other issues that make the life of a transperson difficult in Kerala and this needs to change,” opined Lakshmi.
Appeal to parents of transgenders
Lakshmi has an appeal to the parents of transgender persons. “To those parents who have kids who are transpersons, try to support that child. Whatever it be, they are your child. There are numerous people in our society to take them down the wrong path, so if their parents could guide them, that will do wonders.”
She noted that even in Kerala, despite having numerous laws against conversion centres targeted at the queer community, such centres are secretly working in the state.
“Everyone in my family advised me to learn and go forward. The world may keep commenting negatively about you, but we are with you. In some social media posts after my convocation, there were many people who were body-shaming me,” said Lakshmi.
She added that those people who cannot think beyond the norms created by society and those who cannot understand the world are behind the hatred peddled through social media. “My parents just gave me this advice: Those who are commenting against you, don’t have much to do in life but you have a long way to go. Just focus on your duties,” she said.
Lakshmi recalled how when she was in the 10th grade, she had to suppress her thoughts and interests in front of the public. So, she appealed to the younger generation to strive harder and consider ignoring negativity as their biggest positive trait.
Also read: First transgender to officiate a sports event calls for national policy
‘Name will be etched in history books’
Meanwhile, state Law Minister P Rajeev and Higher Education Minister R Bindu congratulated Lakshmi on social media for her achievement.
“Congratulations to Padma Lakshmi who overcame all the difficulties in her life and enrolled as the first transgender lawyer in Kerala. May advocate Padma Lakshmi’s life inspire more people from the transgender community to enter the legal profession,” Rajeev said in a Facebook post.
Bindu took to Twitter to convey her best wishes to the budding lawyer. “It is a matter of immense pride that Padma Lakshmi’s name will now be etched into the history of Kerala, as the state’s first transgender lawyer. No doubt she has faced obstacles galore in this journey. But she persevered, never letting any naysayer deter or weigh her down,” she tweeted.
Now, armed with her legal knowledge, let Padma Lakshmi's voice ring loud and clear — representing the voice of all those who have been historically relegated to the margins, discriminated against, and denied justice on the basis of their identities.
— Dr R Bindu (@rbinducpm) March 20, 2023
She too expressed hope that Padma Lakshmi’s success would inspire many more transpersons in the state to enter the legal profession.
Lakshmi has also received support from the members of the queer community as well.
Also read: Kerala government transgender employees seek paid leave
The right mentors
Responding to appreciation, Lakshmi told South First, “I am very happy, I need the support of everyone, the way forward is not easy there are many responsibilities. I have many plans for the future. As media is the fourth pillar of democracy, your support is so crucial,”
Since last November, Lakshmi has been associating with Advocate KV Bhadrakumari and said that she learnt so much about fundamental rights, which pushed her forward in her profession.
She also thanked former Bar Association president Advocate Rajesh Vijayan, Advocate Maya Krishna, and Advocate Nasar for extending their support. “It was their decision to enrol me as the first person in the enrolment event. According to me, it is a historic decision as, even in today’s age, there are people calling transgenders the third gender.”
While Padma Lakshmi is the first transgender lawyer from Kerala, the first trans advocate in the country is Sathyasri Sharmila from Tamil Nadu, who was enrolled in 2018.