The Story of Indian Navy’s First Transgender Sailor, Who Will be Discharged Because of her Gender Identity

Sabi, born as MK Giri, had joined the Marine Engineering Department of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam as an 18 years old young man in 2010. However, she never quite felt she belonged to the body she was born in, and her feelings grew stronger after she joined the Indian Navy. A few years into service, Sabi decided she had to undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and become a woman.

She initially contacted the doctors within the Navy at Visakhapatnam, who refused to help her. She then decided to consult a private psychiatrist and psychologist in Visakhapatnamin 2016, who diagnosed her with Gender Identity Disorder. Armed with the medical opinion, Sabi took 22 days leave from service and went to Delhi to have her SRS. Her sex change operation was successfully completed on 26th October 2016 and she came back to her naval base after 15 days.

Sabi, after the sex change operation, living as a woman

However, Sabi developed a urinary infection and had to consult the doctors within the Navy for her infection. Until now, no one in the Indian Navy was aware that she had got operated and had her sex changed. But now, as the doctors and personnel inside got to know about her SRS, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. “I was kept in the psychiatric ward for 6 months as they did not know how to handle to case,” she says.

She was kept in a male ward, with three personnel guarding her 24×7. Sabi was determined to serve in the Navy, while her seniors were confused as this was the first time in the Defence Forces that a serving personnel had changed her sex. Narrating her ordeal of six month, Sabi says, “They were confused and were planning to initially discharge me from service on medical grounds by pointing that I was suffering from depression or some other mental illness and was not fit for service.”

She was referred to the Command Hospital in Kolkata in December for a psychological evaluation, where the doctor identified her as “showing a strong degree of gender dysphoria” and diagnosed her as a “late onset transsexual” but had no adverse comment to give about her mental health otherwise (A copy of the evaluation report is with Gaylaxy). She was finally discharged on 12th April 2017 from the psychiatry ward, and resumed service as a woman.

Sabi, working in the Navy after her sex-change operation

In the meantime, the Indian Navy sent her case file to Ministry of Defence and sought their comments and action that needed to be taken in the case. A report appearing in India Today says that Navy has decided to discharge the sailor from service “as females cannot work in defence services as soldiers”. “We have recommended her discharge from service and proceedings in this regard have been initiated and she would quit soon,” the report quoted a source in the Navy.

The action by Navy is in stark contrast to recent advancements in transgender rights, especially after the NALSA judgement of 2014 when the Supreme Court directed the Central government to come up with policies to bring the transgender community to mainstream society. The government too had tabled a Transgender Rights Bill in the Parliament to bestow rights to transgender people.

Sabi is extremely upset with the decision of the Navy, and says she wants to continue serving the force. “I was selected based on my talent in the Navy, but I am being discharged due to my gender. Where will I go?” she asks.

Sukhdeep Singh