The police interrogated a transgender woman called Pandian for her involvement in a case of theft. Pandian received bail in May 2006, on the condition that she report to the Vyasarpadi Police Station every day at 10.00 AM.
A police officer would come to pick up Pandian every day at 8.00 AM. However, Pandian would only return from the police station at 11.00 PM. Her sister, Jayalakshmi, noticed that Pandian would appear tired and refuse to eat. This continued for a month. Eventually, Pandian disclosed to Jayalakshmi that the police were physically and sexually assaulting her at the station.
Pandian and her family were subject to intimidation, harassment, and torture by the police officers. First, the police beat her mother when she complained to them about these actions. Then, Pandian urged the police to stop the torture by stating that she would immolate herself. The police mocked her, claiming that her death would not affect anyone. Pandian immolated herself in June 2006.
She was admitted to a government hospital for treatment. There, the Sub-Inspector of Police visited her to incriminate her for attempting to commit suicide. The hospital staff intervened and asked the Inspector to record a statement of the torture and ill-treatment Pandian had been subject to by the police. The police officer hid the statement.
Pandian succumbed to her injuries soon after. Her sister, Jayalakshmi brought this case to the High Court, seeking disciplinary action against the police officers and compensation for the death of her sibling.
ISSUES & DECISION:
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.
The police argued that they did not have a statement from Pandian of physical and sexual violence Further, they stated that medical reports and a concurrent case that Jayalakshmi had filed with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe did not mention these acts. Finally, they claimed that Jayalakshmi’s intention for filing this case was only monetary.
The Court held that police authorities had physically and sexually assaulted Pandian, which motivated her to commit suicide. They relied upon a report developed by an enquiry commission, statements of doctors and acquaintances and her Pandian’s dying declaration.
The Court reprimanded the police for these actions, which corrode trust in the judiciary. It directed disciplinary action against the involved police officers. Finally, it required 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. 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.