“Institutional Murder,” Protests over Kerala’s first transgender radio jockey’s death

Anannyah Kumari Alex, a well-known transgender media personality from Kerala, who was the first from her community to file nomination papers as a candidate for the Kerala Assembly elections this time, was found dead in an apartment in Kochi on Tuesday, a week after she accused Dr Arjun Asokan, a plastic surgeon at Renai Medicity in Kochi of medical negligence.

She is suspected to have died by suicide, police said.

Last week, in an interview with the Malayalam digital news platform CUE, Anannyah said that the sex reassignment surgery turned out to be a failure and she faced intense physical pain even after a year since the surgery. Anannyah, who was reportedly working as a make-up artist and a freelance fashion stylist, claimed that the surgery in June 2020 was not a success and that the hospital was denying her treatment records.

“I’m a victim of gross medical negligence. My private part looks like a piece of meat, it has no resemblance to a vagina. I want to conduct a resurgery, I want justice.Even when I stand for a longer time, sneeze, laugh or even brush my teeth, I have severe discomforts. I have also been experiencing breathing difficulties,”  she told CUE.

“The money for the surgeries are painstakingly made by many through sex work, pooling from here and there, and even begging. And hospitals even charge more than what had been told before. But after all that, when this is the result people get, what are they supposed to do? Why are marginalised people like us being attacked like this for money?” Anannyah went on to say.

Kerala Govt Probe

Following an outrage from Kerala’s transgender community, Veena George, the minister of health in the State has ordered an inquiry into the death and an expert group will deal with the post-mortem. This comes in the wake of allegations of physical harassment against the hospital made by Anannyah’s father. Her father Alex claimed that the hospital made derogatory remarks about her and incidents of mistreatment were recounted by her after she accused the hospital of medical negligence.

An expert committee will be formed to study issues related with sex reassignment surgeries, George said.

Anannyah’s friends and family also have lodged a complaint with the chief minister, seeking an inquiry into the death.

Weeks before tragic death, Anannyah used to participate in Clubhouse discussions on the topic of sex reassignment surgeries and how her health was deteriorating by the day. In a discussion, Dr. Suja, spouse of Dr. Arjun did not let Anannyah speak and controlled the conversation with their narrative of success despite attempts by the former to login from her friend’s account.

Anannyah, the first transwoman radio jockey of the State was planning on raising funds for re-surgery.

Anannyah in her interview with the CUE had mentioned that the hospital was unresponsive after she sent an email pertaining to her physical trauma post the surgery.

Institutional murder

Anannyah’s death is called as an institutional murder due to the lack of an inclusive government healthcare and incompetent private hospitals that charge in an arbitrary manner.

Adam Harry, the youngest transman pilot in the state was deemed unfit by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) after a psychiatrist in Renai Medicity the same hospital, claimed that he suffered from gender identity disorder in a medical certificate. “The doctors in the hospital are transphobic as they are of the opinion that is a mental illness when people identify with genders different from the sex assigned at birth,” he said to Maktoob.

There are only three hospitals in Kochi for sex reassignment surgery and more than 300 surgeries have been conducted in Renai Medicity till now.

Following pleas from transgender community, Palarivattom Police have stopped all Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) procedures at Renai Medicity until further notice.

There are no qualified doctors and the government does not make sure the surgery is affordable and healthcare is inclusive for transgender community, he alleged. Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital had once conducted a surgery that turned out to be a failure due to lack of proper guidelines. “What impedes us from moving court is the consent form that clearly lays down how the hospital authorities are not responsible for any complications after surgery,” says Adam Harry. The transmen have complained about scars post their top surgery and transwomen have complained about bleeding and flesh prolapse post vaginoplasty. “The limited healthcare in the State makes it difficult for us to exercise choice and the private hospitals are aware of the fact and how this will drive us to them,” Harry told Maktoob.

Adam Harry is of the view that the transphobia of the society is reflected in its institutions more than ever since inception of transgender bill which negated the NALSA judgment 2014. The bill has made it mandatory for transition surgeries to be performed for a person to identify with the gender which is different from the the sex assigned at birth.

Sahayatrika is an organisation working for the welfare of the LGBTQI+ community. Deepa, a member of the organisation believes that the State has not been indifferent. “The last two or three State governments have introduced various measures for uplifting and supporting the trans community. However, there have been many lacunae in implementation, the people involved do not always comprehend the complexities of trans issues,” she said to Maktoob.

“We should not overlook the lives and experiences of people from the community after the surgery in Kerala. Their rights should be respected,” says Deepa.

Advocate Smriti told Maktoob how the State is riddled with transphobia and homophobia in the form of correction therapy, hormone medication and psychiatrists claiming to ‘cure’ people from LGBTQ community. Transgender bill facilitates a third person’s intrusion into the privacy of a transgender person. The State should provide socio-psychological support for transgender people undergoing surgery, she said.

“It is also the duty of the State to provide a conducive environment in workplaces of transpeople. Officials in workplaces are not sensitive and even police officers are respectful towards the community,” she added.