“She would always say that if I was a man, she would marry me. I would laugh and tell her maybe it will happen in our next life. It began as a joke, but somehow over time, it got serious. She started seeing me as her husband. We gradually evolved into a husband-wife relationship.”
Deepu R Darshan, a 23-year-old diploma holder in airport management, recalls how an innocent friendship with his work-colleague transcended into a serious relationship, which at one point spurred him to re-examine his own gender identity. Back in November 2017, Deepu wasn’t Deepu, but Archana Rajan, who worked in the sales division of a private electronics firm in Kerala.
At a different branch of the same firm, Sapna (name changed), a year younger to him, worked in the client servicing division. They met that month and quickly became close friends. As time passed, in Archana’s words, they realised ‘they wanted to be with each other as life partners’, more than anything.
“We could say anything to each other. We were friends first, but then our roles changed. I saw her as my wife and she saw me as her husband,” said Archana, over the phone.
It was at Sapna’s insistence, Archana claimed, that he began pondering about a gender reassignment surgery which will enable him to physically become the man in the relationship, essentially the man to her wife. The growing number of marriage offers that Sapna was getting at home was also a catalyst — the duo had schemed plans to thrash some of them but they realised they couldn’t do it forever.
After a lot of research and a little help from his uncle, Archana underwent a gender reassignment surgery at a hospital in Chennai on October 25 this year. He said he took on the name ‘Deepu’ as suggested by Sapna. However, after the successful surgery, subsequent hormone therapy and counselling, Deepu said he arrived back home in Kerala only to shockingly learn that Sapna had moved on. His calls and messages were no longer being returned.
On November 6, exactly a year after they met for the first time, Deepu filed a complaint at the Peruvannamuzhi police station, accusing Sapna of cheating him after promising to marry and live with him. Almost two months later, the police haven’t registered a case yet, urging both families to amicably resolve the matter. On phone from her home in Peruvannamuzhi, Deepu said he was on the verge of ending his life, as it never struck him that he would be cheated this way.
“Even two days before the surgery, I had a long phone conversation with her. We spoke from 11 pm to about 4 in the morning. We had made plans to elope to Tiruppur after the surgery as she did not want to live in Kerala. Our families were not aware of our relationship,” said Deepu.
“It was her love for me that influenced me to do the surgery. I trusted her more than I believed in myself.” Deepu said he was always the ‘scared one’ in the relationship. When their office colleagues would pass snide remarks at them that they would never be able to stay together, he said he would always stay quiet. “But she would often shout and talk back to them. She was always the courageous one. When I thought about the surgery, I was scared that I would change my mind. But I didn’t have any doubt that she would change hers,” he said.
After Deepu filed the complaint, he said Sapna was summoned to the police station along with her family to give her statement. In her verbal statement, Sapna, Deepu said, denied that they were anything beyond ‘close friends’ and further insinuated that he had ‘mental problems’.
Suspecting that she was singing a different tune under pressure from her family, Deepu went on to file a habeas corpus petition in the Kerala High Court. But, at the court too, he said, Sapna stuck to the same stand. For the third time, at a meeting convened by the two families, Sapna acknowledged no relationship between them.
A sub-inspector at the Peruvannamuzhi police station attested to the same. “We called the girl in to give a statement. She said there was no relationship between them apart from being friends. She said Deepu did the surgery on his own, without informing her. So we did what we could. I have told Deepu to approach a lawyer and move legally if he wishes,” the officer said.
Sapna and her family members were unavailable for comment.
Family coercion, Deepu suspects, could be the reason why his partner backtracked, but it’s not a reason he could be satisfied with. “She has to open her mouth and speak up because I don’t know what will happen to me. I can’t think of a situation without her,” he said.
“Earlier, she would often threaten to kill herself if I did not live with her. But today, I’m the one between life and death. There’s nothing more shameful that can happen to me, is there?” he said.
The All Kerala Transmen’s Association (AKTA) said in a statement that Deepu had been a member of AKTA’s online support group and been quite vocal about his male gender identity and expressed his need to surgically transition in transmasculine spaces for support.
“We have spoken to him at length today and he has confirmed to us that he does not regret his surgery and his gender identity is male in his conversations with us. We understand that it is a traumatic period for him when a relationship with his partner has turned sour and have taken note of this case and would like to wait for him to be in a better place to make his own decision about his identity..,” it said.