Transgender woman rejected by Air India as cabin crew seeks President's permission for mercy killing

Feb 15, 2018, 16:51 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

After being rejected by Air India as cabin crew four times for being transgender, Shanavi Ponnuswamy asks President's permission for mercy killing

 Shanavi PonnusamyShanavi Ponnusamy

"I am broke and alone in Mumbai, I have no option but to die," says Shanavi Ponnuswamy, 27, a transgender woman who has sought permission for mercy killing from the President because Air India, the national carrier, refused to hire her as cabin crew on account of her gender.

Ponnuswamy is among the many transgender Indians facing discrimination in a country that gives them legal recognition as the third gender, but does not see beyond two genders in the job sector.

Prior experience
Ponnuswamy hails from Chennai and is currently residing in Mumbai to earn a livelihood as a freelance model. After facing rejection from her parents 10 years ago, she underwent sex change in 2014, the same time as the Supreme Court's recognition of transgenders as the third gender. Since 2016, she has been trying to get a job as cabin crew in Air India. But she did not know until her fourth attempt that the actual reason behind the repeated rejection was her gender.

Category doesn't exist
"I have always been appreciated during my interviews, but despite this, my name never figured in the final list. They only hire female candidates," she said. Prior to applying for the cabin crew, Ponnuswamy used to work as Air India's customer support executive in Sutherland global services in Chennai. After gaining 13 months of experience, she underwent her sex change surgery. She also published her name and gender in Tamil Nadu gazette.

In August 2017, she wrote to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, requesting them to add another gender category so that transgenders can also qualify for it. But the response from the ministry revealed the government itself has not made provisions for hiring trans people. "Presently, the transgender category does not exist in the recruitment process. If this category is introduced at any time in future, we will advertise vacancies accordingly," reads their response.

Last September, she approached SC against the ministry. The court, on November 6, 2017, instructed the ministry and Air India to respond to her plea within four weeks. Ponnuswamy is still waiting for an answer. "The SC, in its 2014 verdict, asked [the government] to form a third [gender] category for transgenders but sadly, it hasn't been followed. Despite being an engineer and having experience, I have been rejected just for my gender," she said.

Proud to die
And hence, Ponnuswamy has now turned to the President. In her application dated February 8, she has requested permission for mercy killing, alleging she is facing gender discrimination by the ministry of civil aviation and Air India. "I am not in a condition to pay for my daily food expenses, so it's impossible to manage a case in SC and pay advocates and court registrars. So, here I am, requesting you to grant permission for mercy killing since I am unable to raise a question to Air India and ministry of civil aviation. I am proud to die by my Indian government's hand [sic]," reads the three-page letter.

Don't give up

Onir, filmmaker
'Discrimination by gender is unacceptable and there has been talk about reservations. One has to fight for their rights like many other people do. If every transgender says, "I want to end my life," who will fight for their rights? The government should support and provide reservations and possibilities of employment. Also, we have to check if the person concerned was qualified for the job or not"

Harish Iyer, LGBT activist
'The aviation ministry was asked to respond in four weeks and it's has been five months but still they haven't responded. Doesn't it show the careless attitude of the government to the basic rights of the LGBT community?"

- With inputs by Shaheen Parkar

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