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Is A Trans-Woman Woman Enough To Seek Protection Against Dowry Harassment – New Petition In Andhra HC Raises Questions

Recently, a criminal complaint was filed by a trans-woman against her spouse and his parents in Andhra Pradesh invoking this Section as well as Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. However, a petition has been filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking to squash this complaint because the code is supposedly applicable to cis-women only!

According to Section 498A of the IPC, a woman can file a complaint for dowry harassment and seek legal redressal and protection, as required. If found guilty of dowry harassment, the punishment includes imprisonment and a potential fine. The law recognises the frequently gendered nature of this form of domestic abuse and has phrased the Section accordingly.

Recently, a criminal complaint was filed by a trans-woman against her spouse and his parents in Andhra Pradesh invoking this Section as well as Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. However, a petition has been filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking to squash this complaint because the code is supposedly applicable to cis-women only! This shows the cis-heteronormative lens that has been taken to codify as well as interpret most laws in this country.

However, the premise of the complaint is that the trans-woman and her spouse, VK Murthy (presumably a cis-Man), had been married and planning on having a test-tube baby. Once when he was visiting his parents, he was not allowed to return and faced pressure from them to socially annul his marriage & move abroad. She also received threats from his parents and a message from him asking her to run away to save her life. This is when the woman filed a criminal complaint in the hopes of being reunited with her spouse. However, the form of marital cruelty and gender-based discrimination faced by the trans-woman is not recognised by or known to be dealt with by the Indian law.

In response to the petition, the court has stayed all proceedings in the criminal complaint made for a period of 8 weeks.

A quick Google search about dowry harassment faced by trans-women in the state of Andhra Pradesh yielded at least 2 disparate, recent incidents wherein trans-women had filed complaints against a partner for cheating them or harassing for dowry. In both these situations, the partner was aware of their trans-ness, as if not telling a judgmental stranger about the sex you were assigned at birth or what your genitals look like could amount to duping (could it??).

Also read: Why cis-gendered persons should not be discussing Trans rights

Trans-ness seems to be socially regarded as a dirty, personal secret, especially in the context of marriage. In recent time, transgender folx have been known to struggle to register their marriages, as observed in the case of Manu, a trans-man, and Syama, a trans-woman. Manu and Syama are a trans-couple from Kerala who have moved the State’s High Court to be able to register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, while retaining their transgender identities (as opposed to one of the binary gender identities). According to them, the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, and Transgender Persons (protection of rights) Act, 2019, speak to the right of transgender individuals to marriage. However, it is to be noted that there are no explicit provisions regarding marriage provided in the 2019 Act.

Additionally, in 2019, the Madras High Court interpreted the term “bride” to include transgender persons as well. The HC did so by relying on 3 landmark judgements:

1. The NALSA judgement

2. Navtej Singh Johar judgement

3. the K.S. Puttuswamy case (upholding individuals’ right to privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution)

However, the Indian Government’s counsel has clarified in the Delhi High Court in the case of marriage equality that the decriminalisation of certain sexual behaviours did not amount to marriage equality and that marriage would be recognised only when between a cis-Man and cis-Woman in this country.

In conclusion, it is evident that the material reality of trans folx is, broadly speaking, not widely considered in the mechanism of judiciary-rendered justice. However, several members of the community seem to be hoping for the tides to change and for their rights & realities to be brought under the ambit of Indian law.

This story was about: Community Feminism Gender Identities Trans

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Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!

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