A transgender woman, Pandian was routinely interrogated by the police for her alleged involvement in a case of theft over a period of one month. As per her bail conditions she was required to report at the Vyasarpadi Police Station every day at 10:00 am. Despite this, a police officer would pick up Pandian at 8:00 am and return her home at 11:00 pm every day. After a month of this routine, upon questioning by Pandian’s sister Jayalakshmi, she revealed that the police had been physically and sexually assaulting her. When Jayalakshmi or their mother tried to intervene, the whole family was subjected to criminal intimidation, harassment, and torture by the police officers including beating Pandian’s mother when she tried to make a complaint. Pandian finally urged the police officers to stop this torture, stating that she would immolate herself. The police continued to harass her and in June 2006 she immolated herself. Upon being admitted to the hospital for treatment, a Sub-Inspector from the same police station tried to coerce her into signing a false state of attempted suicide. Upon intervention by medical staff, Pandian was able to record a statement of ill-treatment and torture at the hands of the police. Pandian succumbed to her injuries. Her sister Jayalakshmi has brought this case before the Court against the officers seeking justice for the death of Pandian.
The Court had to decide whether the police authorities had violated Pandian’s right to dignity by physically and sexually assaulting her. They also had to determine whether these motivated Pandian’s suicide.
Despite multiple arguments from the Respondents in this case that Jayalakshmi’s case was motivated by monetary intentions, the Court ruled unequivocally that this was a case of custodial violence and there is no doubt that the physical and sexual abuse of Pandian at the hands of the police officers was responsible for her suicide.
The Court also noted the attempts of the police to fabricate and tamper with evidence i.e. hiding the dying declaration of Pandian and misleading the Court about the nature of Pandian’s interrogation. Based on a report developed by an enquiry commission, statements of doctors and acquaintances and her Pandian’s dying declaration, the Court directed disciplinary action against the perpetrating police officers and directed the Government of Tamil Nadu to provide Rs. 5 lakhs in compensation to Jayalakshmi.
In this case, the Court recognised that custodial violence, which violates a person’s right to dignity, is one of the worst crimes. It is also of significance that the judgment respected Pandian’s gender identity, despite being 7 years before the NALSA v. Union of India decision. This is in contrast to cases where a transgender person’s medical history is discussed. The gender identity of a transgender person is regularly constructed as a biological anomaly.