TW: Mention of abuse and Conversion Therapy
Aryavardhan Singh, who goes by the name Trixie, recently took to social media to share her experience after being subjected to conversion therapy at the hands of Karauli Baba (@karauli.shankar) from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The incident occurred on 8th April 2023.
Trixie, who had been living in Delhi for the past year, had returned to her hometown in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, for her birthday. “I had moved away from home because my family was toxic growing up. They were controlling and abusive, and I had to move away. But, I had just lost a job and it was my birthday and I went home because I thought it would be a good break,” she shares.
Trixie never came out to her family; she was outed by her brother. “About 3-4 years ago, I was secretly seeing a guy in my hometown. He had been unwell and I was checking up on him. I got up to use the washroom but left my phone behind. My brother, who had a habit of checking my phone read my messages. He told my mom,” shares Trixie, who adds that she was robbed of the opportunity to come out on her own terms.
Her mother, who didn’t know to approach the situation opted to be neutral. While she would suggest that they needed to find some sort of treatment, she was not hostile. “I used to tell her that I met a guy, or that I would never want to marry a girl and she was just neutral. So I didn’t expect this from her. My brother, on the other hand, used to act like he was approaching things positively, but he wasn’t,” she shared.
Until two months ago, the situation was kept a secret, even from her father. When Trixie’s father was finally told, he didn’t take it well. “He went to a doctor for advice, and he was told that there was nothing wrong with me. This changed things. While he is not as toxic as he used to be, he is also not supportive. He was not the one to force me to go to the baba. My mother manipulated him emotionally. But, he also didn’t stand up for me, so I blame him as well,” she adds.
When asked what changed between the time she was outed and two months for her mother to take such a drastic step, Trixie shared that it could be that she had come to better terms with her sexuality. “When I lived in my hometown, I dressed in men’s attire. Maybe, I would play around with men’s clothing, by opting for brighter colours or by layering, but it was not so apparent. But once, I moved out, I started dressing more femininely. I started wearing women’s clothing and donning long hair, and long nails. I was finally being myself,” she shares.
The family drove down to Kanpur on the 6th of April and stayed with a family friend. On the 8th, they visited the Lavkush Ashram, on the outskirts of Kanpur. Her mother had learned about the Baba after watching a video by Dr Sachin Kathuria of Delhi’s Ganga Ram Hospital. Dr Kathuria had previously taken his son to the ashram. The Baba told the man that his son was possessed by evil spirits, which were causing him to be “girly”.
In retrospect, Trixie says, that the fact that the ashram is located so far away from the city, is also suspicious. “One reason may be that they wanted a big piece of land, but I also think it’s because they wanted to stay away from the eyes of the mainstream. He is famous among a specific audience, but the people in Kanpur don’t know him; my father’s friend, who we stayed him had never heard of him. Funnily enough, people in Delhi had heard of him. I feel they are trying to stay under the radar to avoid opposition and protests,” she shares.
Trixie was not informed that the purpose of the visit was to “consult” the Baba. By the time she realized so, she tried to leave, but she was forced to stay by her family and the people of the ashram. Doors were shut to prevent them from people. They didn’t shy away from physically restraining her either. For 2-3 hours, she was subjected to witness black magic, after which they tried to tie ie a hefty rope to Trixie’s waist and a kalava to the wrist. She was asked to wear them for three months, but Trixie managed to remove them the moment they got out of the ashram.
“I watched my parents fork over 1.5 lakhs to cure me. What did he do? Nothing. He humiliated me in front of 400 people, performed some puja, and claimed that prayers will save me,” says Trixie, who managed to take videos of the ashram and post them, sparking outrage.
Trixie’s relationship with her family has become strained since the incident. “Soon after the incident, my mom apologized. She cried and told me she never wanted to hurt me and asked me to forgive her. I did,” she shares. However, when Trixie decided to share the video, her mom was upset and asked her to take it down. “She was upset that people were criticizing her and she was upset that she was being dragged into the middle of this. But, this is the only piece of evidence I have, and she was a key part of it. I didn’t put her in the middle, she made it happen. She is guilty and she should also bear the consequences,” says Trixie.
Her brother, who didn’t agree with conversion therapy, did not oppose the situation as it was unfolding. “While I was fighting against what was happening he told me that sometimes for others’ happiness, you have to sacrifice some things. But now, it seems like he is worried about my safety and mental health. I guess, at the end of the day, he is my brother and he does care and worry for me,” he says.
Trixie informed her dad that she had posted the video as he isn’t on social media. “I told him, now, it is about my well-being, self-respect, and mental health. He just said that he is with me, whatever I decided to do. It is nice to see that at least one parent is on my side,” she shares.
It was not just queer people. People suffering from non-curable diseases, people with autism, and other conditions were given the hope that they will be cured. “I want him severely defamed so much so that he cannot run this business built on fooling people and hurting them. He is preying on innocent and desperate people and looting their hard-earned money by giving false promises. People should know he is a fraud, and his business should shut down,” opines Trixie.
Conversion therapy is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also sometimes referred to as reparative therapy, reorientation therapy, or sexual reorientation therapy. Conversion therapy has been widely discredited by the medical and scientific community and is widely viewed as unethical and dangerous.
In 2022, the National Medical Commission (NMC), the apex regulatory body of medical professionals in India, wrote to all State Medical Councils, banning conversion therapy and calling it “professional misconduct”. In a letter dated August 25, it also empowered the State bodies to take disciplinary action against medical professionals who breach the guideline. The letter said the NMC was following a Madras High Court directive to issue an official notification listing conversion therapy as wrong, under the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquettes and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.
Despite the ban, bizarre rituals, hypnosis, and other arbitrary practices continue to be touted as a way to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of queer people.
“It is not my mission to not just shut down Karauli Baba, but all similar babas out there. We can’t just wipe out one and hope for change. They all have to go,” she adds.