Two trans women have been elected to office in India following the country’s 2020 local village elections, or gram panchayat — a groundbreaking and historic move for the country.
Devika Akka received 115 votes to be elected to represent Ward 7 of the Saligrama town council in the southern state of Karnataka. In Kallahalli, a nearby village, Sudha M. was also elected, earning 622 votes in the village’s first gram panchayat since 1994.
“I will listen to the concerns of residents in my locality,” Akka told the News Minute. “I aim to be available to my residents for even the smallest of needs.”
For Akka, who left home in Mumbai at the age of 16, winning her local election was a major moment. After leaving home, she had to beg for money to survive before finding work as an actor and dancer in Saligrama.
Both Akka and Sudha’s elections mark the first two transgender women to serve their villages’ governments. They’re not the first trans elected officials in the country, however. That title goes to State Legislative Assembly Member Shabnam Mausi, who in 1998, was elected to public office four years after hijras — a community of third gender people dating from ancient India — won the right to vote. And last year, Apsara Reddy, a trans activist, was appointed general secretary of the Mahila Congress’s woman’s wing.
But despite not being the first trans elected officials, Akka and Sudha are still a part of an important progressive push for India. According to a 2014 census report, the country is home to over 500,000 trans and gender non-conforming individuals, so inclusion of the trans community in politics is not only a necessary thing but an inevitable one as well.
“People blessed me,” Akka told Times of India, speaking about visiting her constituents, who had “kind words for her,” along the Kaveri River. “I will work for them.”