In the most recent case of crime against transgender persons in the country, the decomposed body of Sangeetha, a 55-year-old transgender activist from Saibaba Kovil, Coimbatore, was found in her own apartment on Wednesday morning.
Sangeetha ran a hotel—Covai Trans-Kitchen—in RS Puram, Coimbatore, which employed 12 transgender persons.
The body was found after the owner of Sangeetha’s rented one-bedroom apartment and her friends complained to the police about a putrid smell emanating from the house. The body, covered in a cloth, had been left in a plastic drum used for water storage. The drum was filled with salt, a method used to hasten decomposition, Saibaba Kovil police told HuffPost India.
The gruesome incident has shocked the transgender community in Coimbatore, especially as Sangeetha was known as a “respected humanitarian” in Tamil Nadu’s transgender activist circles. Before opening the mess to employ members of the community, Sangeetha used to head an NGO, Coimbatore Transgender Welfare Trust.
She started the mess just a month ago to help transgender persons whose livelihoods were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, her close associates said. Many trans people in Coimbatore make a living by asking for alms or by taking part in sex work due to the discrimination faced by the community. The pandemic’s social-distancing norms had deprived several trans-persons of their earnings.
Sangeetha, one of the most active members of the community, herself used to beg due to financial hardships, Subhiksha, Joint Secretary of South Indian Transgender Federation, who hails from Coimbatore, told HuffPost India.
“She was a close friend. The last I spoke to her was two days ago,” said Subhiksha. At the time, Sangeetha was planning to help 120 transgender persons by donating provisions of rice, dal and oil. “She had received support from an angel donor and was planning to distribute the donation,” Subhiksha said.
When Subiksha did not hear from Sangeetha for two days, she went to her house on Wednesday morning. “An auto driver who was close to her told me that she has not stepped out of the house since Sunday,” she said. Meanwhile, the kitchen run by her had remained closed for three consecutive days since October 18.
“When I went to check on her on Wednesday morning, I found the house locked. Transgender activists including myself also spoke to the police over the phone about stench emanating from the house,” Subhiksha said. The police retrieved the body around 11 am on Wednesday.
“We are not aware of the motive. Postmortem is underway,” a Saibaba Kovil police officer said.
Tamil Nadu-based transgender activist Grace Banu condemned the murder and asked for a thorough probe. “She was very active in protests against Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and was a respected activist of the community,” Banu told HuffPost India.
The police have retrieved a suspicious object, a silver bracelet, from inside the house where Sangeetha used to live alone. She originally hails from Singanallur.
“I can’t believe she is gone. We do not know who could have committed such a crime against a well-loved person,” Grace Banu said.
In 2019, a transgender person Rajathi, who was a priest at a temple in Manikapuram, Thoothukudi, in Tamil Nadu, was beheaded. The police are yet to make any arrests in the case.
“In both the crimes, the targets were transgender persons who were visible and respectable. It is an attempt to silence such members of the community,” said Banu.