TN Trans Community Loses an Elder, Sangeetha, to Murder
Coimbatore police confirmed Wednesday that District Transgender Association president and activist Sangeetha, 60, had been murdered. India’s trans community has expressed shock and grief in the days since, highlighting Sangeetha’s tireless work for their welfare and calling for the arrest of her murderers.
This is the second murder of a prominent trans individual in Tamil Nadu in two years. In 2019, Rajathi, a transwoman and priest, was murdered under similarly violent circumstances in the state. “In both the crimes, the targets were transgender persons who were visible and respectable. It is an attempt to silence such members of the community,” Grace Banu, an activist, told HuffPost India yesterday. As of now, the police are unaware of the motive behind Sangeetha’s murder.
“We already face so much pain in this society. It is unbearable that she [Sangeetha] met with such a gruesome death,” fellow activist Grace Banu said in a video posted to Facebook. “The police have to ensure the culprits are punished. We don’t know the reason yet but a person has been brutally murdered. The Tamil Nadu government should take initiative and take lawful action in this matter. We condemn those behind this crime. It is heartbreaking.”
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Grief over Sangeetha’s murder is compounded by the loss of her as a community elder who used her prosperity and progress to help other trans individuals. Intergenerational mentoring is especially beneficial for youth from marginalized communities — knowledge and guidance from an older, more established person can ease young people’s feelings of social isolation and psychological distress.
But age alone doesn’t make a person a community elder. Such carework and mentoring is a complex task that involves establishing trust and adopting relevant principles of social justice to aid disenfranchised youth. Only some people are suited to it. Sangeetha, for example, founded Kovai Kitchen, a trans-run eatery in Coimbatore, to alleviate the financial strain on trans individuals without income during the Covid19 lockdown. Her own experience running a canteen for 15 years and her position as the president of a trans welfare organization allowed her to navigate the transphobia blocking simple processes like renting a space to start a restaurant.
Community elders are not irreplaceable — other leaders will always rise — but what they represent is: care, safety, and wisdom for a community that moves precariously through a biased and hateful world. The life expectancy of trans individuals is much lower than the general population, due to the prevalence of hate crimes, transphobia, and physical/mental health disorders linked to marginalization. An elder gives hope to their community that stigma, health struggles, and economic distress, can be overcome, that a fulfilling and long life can be led just like anyone else, despite all signs to the contrary. Sangeetha’s murder has robbed her of her life and the Tamil Nadu trans community of a shield, a comfort, and an empowerer. It has also robbed the world of progress.