Tamil Nadu based activist Shalini Muthukumar passed away in a hospital on Monday at the age of 47. She had allegedly met with an accident the previous day.
For most of her life, Shalini had remained at odds with her family. She and her brother were also embroiled in a long drawn property dispute. In April, she had posted a video on her social media, alleging a gross injustice being meted out against her and even expressing fear for her life. Despite living with her family, she was a lonely person in her early life.
It was during one such period of loneliness two decades ago when Shalini had been thrown out of her family home because of her lifestyle choices that she found solace in the company of gay people who identified as 'kothis'. Realising the importance of this support system in making a person feel a sense of belonging, she established Lotus Integrated AIDS Awareness Sangram (LOTUS) to serve the queer community in the remote villages of Tamil Nadu's Kumbakonam in 2000 along with some friends from the community.
Most of her activist friends in the state believe there is more to Shalini's death than a traffic accident. Her friend Dr Sheethal Naik even believes that she was beaten up by someone on Sunday evening before she was dropped in the hospital under the guise of being an accident victim. They are currently awaiting the results of the police investigation in the case.
Dr Naik, who is associated with Pondicherry based Sangam Community Oriented Health Development Society (SCOHD) has very fond memories of working alongside Shalini in her many humanitarian activities. "Despite all the struggle in her personal life, he was always smiling. She was a friend and counselor for the men having sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in the villages where Lotus worked," she informed.
Another close friend, Mumbai based activist Murugesan Sivasubramanian remembers Shalini as being a passionate supporter of any cause that could potentially improve the lives of the MSM and transgender people. "In early 2021, she had taken up the issue of a government hospital in Tamil Nadu undertaking physical inspection of the lower abdominal area during the medical examinations prior to getting their transgender cards. She wrote to and reached out to every possible government official in this regard," he recalls.
In their commemorative post on social media, Mumbai based NGO SAATHI (Solidarity and Action Against The HIV infection in India) said, "(Shalini) did pioneering work in kothi/queer/trans mobilization, and sensitizing panchayat leaders and other stakeholders on gender-sexuality issues. They were awarded a SAATHII Fellowship in 2019-20."
Tinesh Chopade from Humsafar Trust, Mumbai remembers Shalini for her immense dedication towards her people. Even at the peak of the lockdown, he recalls, she would coordinate with NGOs and CBOs all across the country to ensure all the people from the community that she knew had sufficient ration and other essentials. "She would often drive in an autorickshaw all day long to distribute food and resources among people from different remote villages," he adds.
Shalini Muthukumar has left the legacy of being a dynamic community leader who worked tirelessly for the betterment of his community. She also worked as an HIV/AIDS consultant to evaluate intervention projects with many regional and national agencies.