A child was born in the Rajegaon village of Beed district in Maharashtra. When the child turned four, the parents noticed that there was something that appeared like a knot near the child’s sex organ. The parents rushed the child to the doctor, who said there was no need to worry. The knot looks like a hernia which can be easily removed. “Your daughter,” he said, “will be fine.”
Several years later when Lalita Salve visited a doctor in Mumbai with the same complaint, she found that what the doctor had diagnosed as hernia was, in fact, a testicle.
In 2014, when my parents first discussed marriage with me, I was shocked. I was 26 years old, but had lived a life of such innocence that I hadn’t asked myself most questions people my age do. Yet, the idea of marrying a man seemed wrong and unnatural. While I was raised as a woman and identified myself as a woman, I wasn’t a woman biologically. I didn’t menstruate.
If that could have been an early sign, I didn’t know, because I lived with my maternal uncle’s family where I constantly heard women say that they didn’t get their period for months, sometimes years. I would nod along. My uncle’s daughters were my closest friends and I behaved, dressed, played like them; and like them, I altered routes any time a boy crossed my path.
When I grew up to become a police constable in the Majalgaon police station in Beed district, I was the didi who young girls in Majalgaon looked up to as I imprisoned boys and men who harassed them. At home, too, I was the didi, who landed a government job and stabilised the financial condition for her parents and two younger brothers. In rural areas, jobs are so few that if anyone secures one, s/he is treated regally, as was I.
But around the time the topic of marriage began to float around the house, I became conscious of a developing knot—something I knew from conversations my parents had got treated when I was a child. But this time when I saw a doctor, he suggested we do a hormonal test. The results came. Testosterone dominated the charts as did the doctor’s words in my ears: you’re not Lalita, you’re Lalit. I couldn’t believe it. I pleaded with him to make me Lalita again. I thought, what would the society think? Go to Mumbai and begin your treatment, the doctor advised.
I now had to disclose the results to my family. My maternal uncle understood as he is an educated, sensitive man but I wasn’t sure about my own family. The moment I mentioned it to my mother—her face turned pale. A seriousness I had never seen descended on her. I cajoled her to tell my father because I couldn’t imagine breaking the news to him. My mother was on the fence, reluctant, and took a long time to understand. But when she did, she firmly joined me in my corner.
The day the news reached my father, he laughed and laughed. I wasn’t surprised, it seemed like a cruel joke to me too. He was in disbelief for months, relenting only at my mother’s insistence, and at the liberating realisation dissenting parents belatedly arrive at: A lot rides on their acceptance—their children’s life and their happiness.
But even before I could convince my parents, I had to convince myself. In the police quarters where I lived, I would lock the doors and cry. Nothing made sense anymore and it was a long time before it would. I thought it would have been better if I were blind, deaf, mute or didn’t have a body part. I wasn’t prepared to deal with this.
In Mumbai, the doctors told me that I would have to undergo a sex reassignment surgery. The recovery would take some months and I would need time off work. I stopped sleeping.
I didn’t know how to write an application to appeal to the police force to grant me leave and reinstate me as Lalit Salve. I assumed that I would need the help of the court in completing the transformation. Those days, I would finish work and return to spend hours on Google, and read about sex change operations. The case of Swati Bidhan Baruah (first transgender judge in Assam) stood out and I decided to approach his advocate, Ejaz Naqvi, who helped me prepare my application. At that time, I also pledged that Lalita Salve might be living in these quarters but, one day, Lalit Salve would return.
Three years had passed since I found out that I was a man and, in that moment, I didn’t know how many wakeful, restless nights lay in front of me.
In September 2017, the application was ready and now it was time to submit it to my senior, to the Superintendent of police (SP) in Beed district. The run-up to that day was so painful, the nervousness so ripe, that I didn’t know if I could go through with it. My parents decided to accompany me as I went to the SP. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was afraid I would collapse or have a heart attack. Several times I got up to walk, to fan my shirt and let the heat escape.
When I returned, he asked me to show him the application. I did. He looked at it and said, “I will forward the application to my seniors. Aapka ho jayega (it will be done)”. I couldn’t believe it. Aapka ho jayega? I kept repeating the sentence in my mind. I was terrified that I would be ridiculed and humiliated but even the expression on my senior’s face hadn’t changed. The grace and dignity with which he accepted my application astonished me.
Yet, this was just the first step. The permissions were yet to come.
A few days later, I got a call. “Are you Lalita?”, The voice enquired. I’m a journalist from Mumbai. I immediately hung up, started my two-wheeler and rushed to my parents’ home from the police quarters. I told my parents that the media had found out. Till then, no one in the village knew about me and that’s how I preferred it. But somehow, the news had leaked and now media from Delhi and Mumbai were arriving in Majalgaon. I decided to leave. My mother was in tears but I consoled her and asked her to stop crying. I would return.
For the next couple of months, I hid myself at a relative’s house while the media tried every method possible to get in touch with me. They spoke to my school and college classmates, my teachers, my colleagues, my neighbours, and tried to put together the jigsaw of my life.
They had completely mobbed me and there was no way I could return. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing and no matter how many SIM cards I’d change, they’d find my number. I was afraid of stepping out as I thought that there would be a media person hiding somewhere.
In the meantime, my application went to the DIG (Deputy Inspector General of Police) and returned with a no. Each officer it went to said it was not something they could decide. While the medical leave could be granted, it would be difficult to reinstate me in the force because I was admitted as a female constable. I didn’t match the criterion for the male category.
My insomnia persisted. I would lock myself in a room with a tumbler of water. I refused to eat. I would sit in isolation and meditate to calm myself. Slowly, I started noticing what the media was writing.
As reams of letters were exchanged in the police force, media continued to write about me and the majority extended unconditional support to me. Most articles, I began to hear, asked for justice in my favour.
Initially, I was terrified. I never wanted the news to reach so many people but slowly I began to open up. Mediapersons requests reached me. Journalists merely wanted a picture or a quote and when despite coming all the way to my village, they wouldn’t get it, they would say to my colleagues or friends—Bring us Lalita, we’d fall in her feet.
I finally did meet them and it was because of the media, and those who read about me in the media, that my appeal reached the Chief Minister, whom I would later meet, and he would promise to act in my favour.
Before 2014, I was living as a woman. It never occured to me that one day, I would live like a man.
In 2018, when my surgery was successful, the doctor asked me, ‘bara ahes?’ (A manner of asking ‘Are you fine’ to a man in Marathi) and I replied, ‘ho, bara aahes’, not bari as a woman would respond. I spoke like a man for the first time, and in that second, I left my past behind.
It’s surreal. I’ve lived both lives: As a man and a woman. When girls do or say something, I look at them with recognition because I understand what it means to be a woman. And so, I also understand the discrimination that’s deeply entrenched in our society which makes us happy if a boy is born but sad if a boy is.
I yearn for a society where it isn’t about a boy or a girl but about humans.
Today, I have no fear. I can do whatever I want, return at whatever time, act however I like. Lalita would have been terrified, not Lalit. I am unabashed and that’s because I am a man. I couldn’t imagine doing this as a woman. And that’s the future—a future free of fear—that I want for everyone.
(As told to Apekshita Varshney)
Lalita Salve was told she was, in fact, Lalit. What followed is a story that inspires hope in the inclusive, welcoming spirit of humanity
By: Thrive Global