In a first, the Indian Navy has recommended that a transgender woman be discharged from service after a sailor underwent a gender reassignment surgery.
The sailor underwent the surgery in Mumbai without letting her colleagues know, and then returned to the INS Eksila base in Visakhapatnam. She later told colleagues she felt like a “woman trapped in a man’s body”.
Until her termination is processed, the sailor has been attached to the office of the commanding officer of INS Eksila, a Naval marine gas turbine overhaul facility under the Eastern Naval Command. This is because women cannot serve as sailors in the Navy.
This is the first case of its kind in India, and has thrown up some unique problems that the Navy admits it isn’t prepared to handle. While the Navy says that the sailor did violate the terms and conditions under which she entered the force seven years ago (as an “Indian male citizen”), as of now, they don’t seem likely to be taking any further action but dismissal. However, reports do indicate that she was placed in the psychiatric ward for 6 months, which is a gross and unfair violation.
Of course, this whole incident does bring to light how unprepared the Armed Forces are to deal with the realities of gender in a practical way. It’s hard to forget that while this is happening here in India, US President Donald Trump is currently being sued by transgender member of the military for his executive order that banned transpeople from enlisting.
In this case, it also lays bare once again some of the sexisms encoded into the way the Armed Forces work, like that women can’t “serve aboard sea faring ships, join the infantry, artillery or armoured corps in the Army”. And it reminds you that it’s pretty pointless to fight for the rights of transgender people all the way to the Supreme Court, and to win the right for the “third gender” to be officially recognised, if that recognition and protection isn’t meaningfully actualised in the way the country actually works. By being unprepared for the possibility of transpeople enlisting in the military, it effectively stop them from doing so. This event should serve, perhaps, as a sign to all kinds of organisations to examine whether their own rules, policies and cultures are as open to transpeople as they should be, before they find themselves stumped by an event like this.