Guts and Glory: The story of India’s first Transgender activist

Lakshmy Narayanan Tripathy.
Lakshmy Narayanan Tripathy.

The rain has settled down and some sunlight is streaming in. The colour tone reminds you of Lakshmi Narayan Tripathy’s auburn tresses. She caresses her hands through her long hair as she talks about the summers she has gone through in her life.

The first transgender to form India’s Transgender ascetic organization, she is also the Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of Kinnar Akhara. She was here to undergo treatment at Alumpeedika Ayurvedic Centre, Ochira. “If transgenders get the necessary support system from society, they can do a lot more things than I ever could,” she says.

She was fortunate to have a mother who refused to discard her despite being advised to do so. Her father declared that he was lucky to give life to a gender other than male or female. Their support helped her to tide over. Lakshmi was born in a traditional brahmin family in Mumbai. Even before their first son was born, the grandfather had decided on a name—Lakshmi Narayan. But the society started mocking the boy when he first started showing signs of being a woman.

“I was an ordinary child, and I hadn’t realized that there was a woman inside me. It was the society who forced me to see it,” recalls Lakshmi.

Days of realization

Lakshmi tries to sum up her experiences in a sentence— “I didn’t care a damn about the world as my parents were with me.” "When you have confusion over your sexuality, the biggest support should come from your family. Despite being the eldest child of a middle-class brahmin family, they didn’t give up on me. I was given a good education. They supported my ideals. They allowed me to live the way I want. People used to mock me a lot. It was at the age of 10 that I first started raising my voice against such mockery. After that, there was a change in their attitude towards me."

Her father, Chandradev Tripathy and mother Vidyavari Tiwari are no longer with her. Vidyavari died last August.

Dance and life lessons

Lakshmi who started teaching dance at the age of eight also continued learning dance. She also made her debut on stage.

She did her graduation and post-graduation in dance. Lakshmi who became popular through her dance shows also started appearing on Television shows. She was the one who first held a fashion show for the trans community. There are a lot of painful stories that led her to social service. It was in 1990 that Lakshmi’s close friend died of AIDS. But they didn’t have the resources to treat her. That’s how she started social service.

Kinnar Akhara

She started an Akhara in 2015 for a community that was ridiculed even in the mythology. She fought for the third gender’s human rights and waited till the Supreme court verdict in 2014 to finally heave a sigh of relief. Kinnar Akhara got an opportunity to be part of the 2019 Kumbha mela along with the other ascetics as well as undertake a royal dip in the Ganges. That journey wasn’t easy either. It took a while for the Kinnar Akhara who came in the 14th spot to get recognition at a Mela where 13 Akharas participated. Their breakthrough came when they joined forces with the biggest Akhara called Juna and found support in Shankaracharya Vasudevanand Saraswathi.

The people who previously mocked Lakshmi welcomed her warmly with flowers after returning from Kumbha Mela. With that episode, she was considered an icon among transgenders as she had succeeded in changing the mindset of society about them. Transgenders began to be looked upon with respect. They were considered spiritual. This was big deal for a community that had till then worked as beggars and sex workers. Today in various states in India there are around 21 people belonging to various religions and castes heading the Mahamandaleshwar position in Kinnar Akhara under the Acharya.

During this time, she was also criticised, even by her own community, for supporting the construction of the Ram temple. She was also not spared for flouting Covid rules to participate in the Kumbha Mela in 2021.

Lakshmi is the Transgender Council member of the Central Social Justice Ministry. She is also the core group member of the LGBT community section of the National Human Rights Commission. As an Asia-Pacific representative at the UN, she has addressed the issues of the transgender community. She lives in East Delhi. Lakshmi is also running Gaurav Organisation in Mumbai for the betterment of the trans community. She also initiated a drinking water project called Kinn Neer. She is now 44.

Kerala is different

In a 2008 interview for Manorama, she had said— “It was alarming to see people looking at me as if I am an alien in a land that prides itself on being a 100% literate state.”

But she excitedly confides that things are now different in Kerala. “Kerala has changed a lot. This is also the first state that was willing to change its attitude towards the trans community in India. The govt gave us a lot of job opportunities for us. It is heartening to witness this change in Kerala. They are a model for other states, and I appreciate that. It should be celebrated,” says Lakshmi.

Malayalam is home

Her dance teacher and some of her closest friends are Malayalees. She still can’t get over the death of her close friend, Praveen who hailed from Palakkad. Lakshmi considers Mata Amritanandamayi as her mother and often visits her.

Court verdict that changed lives

It was in 2014 that the Supreme court verdict came in favour of the trans community. “A law came into place under the leadership of the then Prime Minister. Not that everything should be perfect all the time. But today we have a law in our favour.”

Rehabilitation units like Smile and Garima Grihayojana were established under the Central Social Justice Ministry. But some issues like adding Trans community under OBC Quota remain unfulfilled. She is hopeful of support from the Central ministry. Lakshmi is also happy to see that at least the new generation doesn’t harbour prejudices against their community. 

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