Beed cop, sex change saga: Town wants to keep its good cop irrespective of gender
In this small town in Beed, Lalita Salve has made a name for herself as the ever-helpful and raring-to-go constable, and gender is a non-issue
Beed district's Majalgaon has found itself on the map in a matter of days, and the reason isn't completely simple or conventional — its constable Lalita Salve and her fight for securing a nod for a sex reassignment surgery while retaining her job. If you thought the small village would shy away from offering support, there's news for you. Majalgaon's men, women, children and police personnel are clear: whatever the gender, they want their fiery constable back on the job, and they are doing whatever they can in their capacity to ensure it.
Salve's brother Balu and father Madhukar outside their home in Rajegaon village in Beed district. Pics/Sameer Markande
Taur Shamal Kishore, 18, is a Std XII commerce student at Sunderrao Solanke Mahavidyalaya in Majalgaon. When we meet her around 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon, she is about to leave college for the day. There is no immediate recall of Lalita Madhukar Salve. But when a photograph is presented, she smiles and talks of "Salve Maam", the cop who made herself so familiar with the residents of the girls' hostel at the college that when in trouble, they'd call her. And help would arrive promptly. "I recall an incident when a student called Salve Maam, after she shared her number with hostel students, to complain of a few boys stalking her. She took care of the matter. Salve Maam is well known in the hostel," Kishore adds.
Majalgaon, a town in Beed district with a population of little over 4,000, as per the 2001 census, currently finds itself at the centre of a statewide discussion, as Salve, 29, has approached the Bombay High Court, requesting that she be allowed to continue in the police force following a gender re-assignment surgery. While the CM has said he supports her decision, even as a ruling in the case is awaited, in Majalgaon, where Salve has worked as a cop after she was posted here in 2013, there's no confusion: they want Salve working here, whether as a man or a woman. A good cop, after all, is a good cop, gender notwithstanding.
PSI Priyanka Phand, who worked with Salve in the anti-eve-teasing squad, shares a picture of them being felicitated
The dashing, daring cop
Senior PI Rajeev Talekar, who is the in-charge at Majalgaon police station, says he was posted here just four months ago. And Salve has been on leave for three of those. He says that she was a member of the local anti-eve-teasing squad, in which she worked with two others. "The work would require her to go to colleges and schools, often in civil clothes. If she spotted anyone harassing the girls, she'd bring the boys to the police station and have them charged." Of her work and work ethics, he has no complaints. If anything, he's all praise. "She did well. She is a good cop and disciplined. She would come on time and always dressed properly. There's no complaint against her, not even in how she'd behave with fellow colleagues," he adds.
An old photograph of Salve
While he wishes to await an official ruling from his seniors, he does say that if Salve were to be posted again at the police station as a male cop — Salve told mid-day on Thursday that post the surgery she would like to be referred to as Lalit Kumar Salve — he'd be happy to have her on his team. "She's a good cop and I'd treat her as a male. However, rules are rules and we cannot say anything against that." PSI Priyanka Phand, who has been posted at the police station for the last six months and has worked with Salve in the anti-eve-teasing squad, recalls her as an active member of the female force. "Sometimes, you have female officers who prefer desk work, but not Salve. She was active and at the forefront. She never said no to work, whether it was bandobast duty or even crowd controlling during morchas," Phand says with a smile. She adds that almost everyone in the town knows of Salve's work in the squad. "As part of the drive, her number had been given at public spaces, such as bus stops, for those who'd complain against harassment, and she'd been working in the team for four years. Everyone was afraid of her."
Rajeev Talekar, senior police inspector and in-charge of Majalgaon police station
Phand says Salve's petite frame, which she covers by wearing a jacket, belies her strength as a cop. "She's thin but strong. That comes from her runner body." It's not everyday that a cop applies for a gender reassignment surgery and a posting following that. But at least in Salve's case, the cops at the station are hoping she returns and an exception is made in her case. "She is a good person and helpful, we will miss her if she doesn't get posted back," one cop says.
Of Salve's exploits, a staffer at the Sunderrao Solanke Mahavidyalaya, a few hundred metres from the police station, recalls an incident when some male students tried to enter the college without an ID card. Salve, who was in civil clothes at the time (part of her usual routine), pulled up the boys who even tried to beat her. "She was almost dragging them to the police station when staff intervened and assured her they were in fact college students," the staffer adds. The college's principal, Dr V P Pawar, doesn't know Salve by name. However, when we show him her picture, he recognises her immediately as one of the cops who is always prompt and ready to help in the college's various programmes, be it in anti-cheating flying squads or controlling unruly students during admission time. His only worry about the gender reassignment surgery is that she should be okay after it.
The pride of Rajegaon
Ten km from Majalgaon is Rajegaon village where Salve's family lives. She studied here till Std V, before leaving for Wadwani village, where her maternal uncle stays, to continue her education. While her younger brothers Balu and Dhammanand (Salve also has an elder sister who's married and lives in Thane) are reluctant to say much about her surgery, they can barely stop talking when it comes to how "didi" (as they refer to her) is good at almost everything — sports (she'd get top medals in running and long jump), studies (they say she also wants to give her MPSC exams and become a police officer) and, even singing. Dhammanand, 25, recalls that Salve wanted to be a singer while still a child. The family, which runs a local dhaba, says the family of famous Marathi singer Prahlad Shinde's wife used to live in the village and he'd visit them once in a while. During these visits he'd perform at local Ambedkar Jayanti functions and these, they believe, got didi fascinated with music.
"However, when she went to college, a few friends and also the PT teacher there suggested that she try to join the police force as she had the physical attributes for it. That's when Lalita decided to give the force a try," he adds. When asked to show an old photograph of his daughter, father Madhukar, 57, pulls out a laminated one, which shows him and his wife with three photographs of Salve superimposed. He tears up when he admits that Salve is the pride of his life. "She is like my third son and keeps my head held high with all her achievements. She's always made me proud." It's why he supports her decision and also to fight for her career in the police. The village that subsists largely on farming is proud of Salve, their most educated resident and the only one to have become a cop. Gender reassignment is a new subject for them. Madhukar says a few years ago he'd ask his wife to broach the subject of marriage to Salve, who'd told her that she wasn't interested in marriage and shared that she felt that she needed to undergo a gender reassignment surgery.
Sitting on a cot with other men from the village, Madhukar says, "Initially, I didn't understand. But then, we met the doctors who said this was natural. So, we accepted it. Initially, it felt a bit weird, but she's educated and we support her decision. We now treat her like a boy and don't discuss the wedding anymore." With pride, Balu says the cops at Majalgaon would take Salve for special jobs. "Her number is on the bus stands for the eve-teasing helpline. While other cops' numbers are there too, she gets the maximum calls."
Dhammanand recalls hearing an incident in which Lalita tried to save a person who was attempting suicide. "The woman had poured kerosene over herself. Lalita wasn't afraid and hugged the person to pull her away and get her in control. She got drenched in kerosene herself but didn't care. Her being a cop is a matter of pride for the village."
A campaign for justice
A female cop at the police station puts it down to justice for Salve. "She has feelings too and wishes to live a normal life. How can we deny her that?" she asks. It's this sentiment that is reflected in Majalgaon as well, where Sattyabhama Saundarmal, 33, and Deepali Patil, 30, of the Nirdhar Samajik Sevabhavi Sanstha are running a signature campaign, seeking gender justice for Salve. Already with over 100 signatures, Saundarmal says she has been posting in support of Salve on social media and WhatsApp. "Salve's work is very good. Her voice is masculine and has always been like that. This and the fact that she's daring has often been used by the cops here during raids. Now, in her time of need, they need to stand up for her," says Saundermal, adding that the Constitution allows every citizen of India to live with pride and dignity despite their gender. "This right should to extended to Salve as well." Now, over to Mumbai.
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