Trans Law Cell Testimonial – Vihaan Peethambar

March 19, 2024 | Anish Saha

The Trans Law Cell is an initiative by the Centre for Law and Policy Research (“CLPR”) that provides free legal aid and advice to the transgender community, and empowers members of the trans-community to better understand, and fight for, their rights. It is a free walk-in legal clinic which takes place every week on Tuesdays, between 5-6 PM.


Vihaan Peethambar approached the Cell for help in getting his name and gender markers changed on his educational certificate, namely his postgraduate MS Communication degree certificate from Manipal University. He further sought direction for universities in Karnataka to update degree certificates of Transgender Persons to reflect the change in their name & gender and to provide revised degree certificates to transgender persons based on applications made by them without having to approach the Courts.


CLPR represented Vihaan at the Karnataka High Court and filed a writ petition oh his behalf. The High Court of Karnataka allowed the case and directed educational institutions not to compel Transgender Persons to approach Courts for change in name and gender in educational certificates and directed educational institutions in Karnataka to follow guidelines laid down by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.


Post the success of the case, we spoke with Vihaan and asked him to share his experience with CLPR Trans Law Cell, his legal battle to claim his rights, and the importance of access to legal services for the trans community. This is what he had to say:


1. Could you describe the challenges you faced in attempting to change your name and gender marker on various identity cards and certificates?  


One of the challenges I faced when I set out to change my name and gender markers in my identification documents and under graduate certificate in 2016 in Kerala, was people’s lack of awareness about the state’s transgender policy and transgender people, especially trans men. Even after a year of Kerala launching the state’s transgender policy (2015), the government had not begun formulating administration processes that were inclusive of trans people across all their various departments, hence officials did not know what to do when a trans person approached them with a particular requirement. The onus fell on me to spend time educating government officials about the policy and how they can create inclusive processes. However, I must say that I was fortunate that most officials complied with my application requests after a bit of discussion. The biggest challenge I faced was with the Kerala Gazette. While the law upheld a person’s right to self-identify their gender as man/woman/transgender without any medical intervention, the Kerala gazette continued to mandate trans people to produce a government medical board certificate which involved having to undergo rigorous physical examinations and invasive scans.


My efforts to educate them that what they were demanding was illegal fell on deaf ears. I approached every government office from the Social Justice Department to the Secretariat to get this process changed but it was to no avail. So I decided to go through this humiliating process and had to undergo multiple ultra sound scans and strip at 3 different hospitals in order to get a medical certificate to prove my gender for a gazette notification. Post this, I spoke about my experiences at various forums, wrote about it, had the media cover it and filed multiple complaints, after which the Kerala government changed the process and transgender people were no longer asked for medical certificates. It was in this journey, that I experienced and understood the problems that arise in institutions not engaging with representatives from minority groups when creating and implementing policies that are meant to empower them.


2. How was your experience with CLPR in taking up your case and if you can say a few words about their work for your case. 


Given I knew Jayna and was familiar with the work she and CLPR does to support and empower the transgender community and our lives, I did not think twice about reaching out to seek support with my case. It is very important for a trans person to know that the lawyer handling your case is also a strong ally and I knew that 100% with Jayna and CLPR. I had reached out to Jayna in May 2023 seeking her guidance on how to approach my situation with Manipal University where they repeatedly refused to issue a post-graduation certificate in my legal name. From guiding me through the process, patiently answering my questions and seeking my inputs with the petition to ensure I was comfortable through the entire process, it has been great working with the CLPR team. I sincerely thank Jayna, Aparna and the CLPR team who helped me win this case. This is not just a win for me but for the transgender community in Karnataka as well.


3. Now that your name and gender in your educational documents have been changed, how do you feel? What is the impact this has had on you – personally and professionally?


I feel relieved that I have crossed one more obstacle. I still have my school certificates left to change and am waiting for the CBSE to institute an inclusive process, given the number of cases trans people have filed with the courts across different states. I am someone who experiences high levels of gender dysphoria even today. In the past, whenever I applied for a job, I always had to out myself as my dead name got shared in the post-graduation certificate I submitted during the background verification process. The constant anxiety that whether my dead name/gender identity would get leaked by internal teams and people would use it to harass me always haunted me. I delayed going to court as I knew it would always have the risk of online media channels reporting about the case and publishing my dead name as there is this strange obsession that the Indian media has with a trans person’s past. As I rightly feared, that happened with my case but I really appreciated that CLPR reached out to the media channels asking them to retract my dead name. Post winning the case, as I was unable to travel to Manipal, my wife travelled to Manipal University to submit my original certificates as per the court order. At the head office, she had to deal with a hostile and transphobic young lawyer in the university’s legal team who refused to honor the High Court order. Although, she was able to escalate the matter to higher authorities and submit my application, the ordeal she went through greatly impacted me. For now, I am focusing on the win and trying to move forward and hoping for a day where trans people no longer have to go to court for changing their name and gender markers.


4. As someone who has benefited from legal advocacy and support, do you have any suggestions for improving access to legal resources and representation for trans persons in India?


There is a dearth in trans-friendly lawyers who are proficient to lead cases for trans people in court across states. The lawyers who help pro-bono in many cases lack the financial resources or do not have sufficient support in terms of senior lawyers as mentors or a team that can help them. Creating a network of lawyers across states who can help and support each other on cases relating to transgender persons would be very beneficial. The network could be used to share best practices/learnings, provide guidance on cases lawyers have handled to guide someone taking up a similar case in another state, provide other resources, connecting them with community based organizations (CBO) etc. CBOs across states could reach out to this network with a request and a lawyer could be referred based on the location and nature of case. Not sure, if there already is a similar network/forum in India. Mobilizing a ‘Network of Lawyers for Transgender Justice’ would certainly be helpful.

Anish Saha

Communications Associate

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