Pride Month is here. Reminding us yet again that though much has indeed changed for the LGBTQIA+ community, old prejudices and perceptions still remain entrenched, hard to break, even in the face of landmark court judgements.

  • In September 2018, when India’s Supreme Court made gay sex legal, it was arguably the first victory for the LGBTQIA+ community in modern India.
  • In 2021, the Madras High Court, responding in a 107 page order to a petition by two women who had approached the court for protection from their families, who opposed their relationship, banned any attempt to ‘cure’ the gender identity or sexual orientation of people.

Both cases were revolutionary steps in eliminating gender bias from rigid social systems, setting clear precedents for the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights. Pride supporters exulted: We are now like the US, UK and France in terms of liberty and human rights! Regrettably, every achievement, whether in science, medicine, the arts or society, finds acceptance and credibility on the touchstone of the West. We Indians are so blissfully unaware of the ‘modern’ India that existed long before colonialism imposed its mores on this ancient land.

Ardhanarishwara, a lesser-known form of Lord Shiva, essentially signifies the union of Lord Shiva and his consort Shakti, representing the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies. The fact that this form of Shiva-Shakti is not only known but also celebrated and worshipped as divine in the Indian sub-continent, is a clear hint that we were perhaps more accepting of transgenders as strong manifestations of the human spirit.

Perhaps it is time to re-look at our history and bring into the limelight important characters and their contributions from the great Indian epics that we hold so dear. Understanding our own human and social heritage may help to open the doors of our hearts and the acceptance of our minds for a community of over 2.5 million people (recorded), who are part of our common journey on this earth.

It was with this intention that I wrote the book, Shikhandini: Warrior Princess of the Mahabharata(Leadstart Publishing 2019), on the first anniversary of the historic 2018 judgement by The Supreme Court. Yet, isn’t it strange that even today, nearly two years later, I still see hesitancy in people when they read the title, dropping their gaze… Those who seem genuinely interested to know about the protagonist, don’t really know where to start. So pervasive is popular perception that anything else seems a flight of fantasy.   

 ‘What is there to write about her…him…it? She-he was just a pawn used by the brave Pandavas in the Great War.’

‘273 pages on…it? Really?’

Despite her valour, strength and ultimate sacrifice in the cause of restoring righteousness in the land, today all that remains of Shikhandini is her unusual name, spoken with mockery and derision. The firstborn child of King Drupada of Panchala, Shikhandini was a Princess by birth, a warrior by karma, and a trans-gender by choice. A choice she was forced to make because she was a woman. Regardless of how great a warrior she was, no woman was permitted to fight in the Great War. It was a man’s world. How hauntingly familiar that sounds.

Shikhandini was an Athirathi, a warrior of the second-highest rank, and a Senapati, Commander of the Panchalan Army. A trained warrior of unmatched valour and skill, she single-handedly defeated the hundred Kaurava brothers in the Battle of Panchala. All her life she strove to fulfil one goal – to slay the Maharathi of Hasthinapur, an immortal, who had wronged more than one woman during his long life.  

But the book is not just about Shikhandini, the Princess by birth. She undergoes a gender transformation under the aegis of Ila, another forgotten character from our history. Ila was the daughter of Lord Manu, and a sibling of Ishvaku, the original forebear of Lord Rama’s sun dynasty. Ila was also the mother of Puruvaras, an ancestor of the Hastinapur Kurus. There are many versions of Ila’s story. Some believe she was a magical being who could change her gender as she wished; others say she was cursed to live the life of an androgyne. In Shikhandini, the science of gender transformation is given the name ‘Science of Ila’, as a tribute to one of the greatest medical-scientists in Indian history.

In this retelling of epochal events, Shikhandini’s transformation from woman to man, based on ancient medical science, is what makes the story both riveting and real in its validity, human intensity, driven purpose and ultimate sacrifice. In this new dawn, when the third gender is finally gaining acceptance and identity, it is perhaps time Shikhandini’s story was retold in all its tragic glory. She sacrifices her womanhood, leaving behind her husband and son, subjecting herself to insufferable pain, all in the hope of restoring dharma in the land. But the story of her victory against the Maharathi has been twisted, manipulated and buried to feed the ego of patriarchs. For death at the hands of a woman/transgender, no matter how great a warrior, remains unacceptable.

Like Shikhandini, the LGBTQIA+ community is the waiting for the respect, acceptance and identity that is their due.

Ashwini Shenoy is an electronics engineer by profession and a writer by passion. Travelling to wherever her father’s postings took the family, Ashwini grew up fluent in Konkani, Kannada, Hindi and English, having studied Sanskrit and Marathi as well. Along with a Master’s degree in Technology, she holds a diploma in creative writing. A fervent reader of Indian mythology, historical fiction and stories with life lessons, she has experimented across genres, drawing into the limelight some of the most underrated yet pivotal characters of Indian mythology, retelling their stories from a more logical and balanced modern perspective. Shikhandini is her first novel.


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Debashis Biswas

With more than 15 years of experience in book sales and distribution, Debashis currently oversees Leadstart’s business activities in eastern India and neighbouring countries. He has previously worked with several leading book publishers and distributors.

Walid Jalal

Walid has 7 years experience in online listing & marketing Working in SEO firm & Publishing sector. He worked in a Restaurant as a Manager in Sharjah for two years. He loves cricket & cooking.

Jayati Sarkar

Jayati has been into literature studies and has pursued her Mphil in Australian Aboriginal Poetry from the University of Calcutta. She is an avid reader and her love for books has brought her to the field of Publishing. For years she has explored the other side of the book as a reader and now she works with Leadstart as the Senior Executive in the Editorial Department. Her work profile includes working closely with Authors, managing the projects from end to end and also working with national and international publishers for management of Secondary Rights.

Ashwini Jadhav

Ashwini has about a decade’s experience in design. She is a Master of Commercial Art, who has worked in the publishing and advertising sectors as a visualiser & designer. She was judged as the third best in the state, when she finished her foundation course in applied art. She is a practicing calligrapher in Modi Lipi (a script in the Marathi language) and is a Rangoli artist who has won several accolades in those domains. During the popular Ganesh Chaturthi festival, several idols of Ganesha in varying sizes get made, one the most important finishing touches to the idol is that of painting the eyes, which Ashwini has practiced to perfection and does it for hundreds of idols every year. In addition to the above, she is also a trained classical dancer, a national level Kabaddi player and loves cooking.

Ananya Subramanian

Graduation in journalism and love for books, led Ananya to take up a career in publishing. With her experience in the field, she has come to believe more and more in the power of stories and the people who tell them. She is a vegan and an animal-lover; and loves to dance, tend to her pet plants and often find solace in solo travelling.

T. Vijay Kumar

Vijay has over a decade’s experience in supply chain management working in India and the Middle East. He heads the production, supply chain and receivables management for Leadstart. Prior to his current role at Leadstart, Vijay worked in inventory management for five years, in Abu Dhabi.

Iftikar Shaikh

Iftikar has a decade & half years of experience across publishing and the banking sectors in the finance domain. He enjoys working on numbers and loves uncovering stories that the numbers tell. A fitness enthusiast, he loves trekking and travelling.

Maneesha Arun

Maneesha has an experience of over two decades in the content industry spanning over publishing, media and secondary rights business domains. She has a deep interest in psychology.

Mahendra Rawat

With more than a decade’s experience in book sales and distribution, Mahendra comes from a family immersed in the book trade. He worked with several book distributors and publishers before his current assignment with Leadstart.


With more than 15 years of experience in book sales and distribution, Debashis currently oversees Leadstart’s business activities in eastern India and neighbouring countries. He has previously worked with several leading book publishers and distributors.

Rajesh Krishnan

Rajesh comes with over 3 decades of experience spread over various business domains. He oversees Leadstart’s business development & sales across southern & western India, Sri Lanka and Middle-East. His hobbies include dancing, trekking and travelling

Pooja Dutt

Pooja has over a decade’s experience in operations, sales and people management in various business domains. She loves to interact with authors and helps them meet their publishing goals. She is fond of travelling & cooking.

Bhavika Bharambe

After completing her MBA in marketing, Bhavika has focused on roles that helped her to become an experienced marketing professional today. She has worked for brands from various industries; Educational, Tourism, Retail, Entertainment, Airlines, Banking and more. She loves to spend her time by reading books and listening to music.

Naina Solanki

Naina leads the project management and author support functions at Leadstart Publishing. She is fond of being abreast of the latest developments in technology and is a keen learner of the six sigma methodology. She loves reading and travelling.

Preeti Chib

Preeti has a decade’s experience in brand and communication management with most influential and innovative media companies. She is passionate about building brands by translating consumer insights into product innovations and campaigns. She is a compulsive reader and considers a day gone without some bit of reading a day wasted. She loves reading stories to her children every night. A lover of visual art, to delve a bit deeper into the same, she took up formal training for design as well.

Malini Nair

Malini is passionate about Literature and Business Management. After her MBA (Marketing) from St. Xavier’s, she took up roles that involved sales, marketing, costing, MIS etc. in multiple sectors like Banking, Insurance, E-broking, and even the Steel industry. Eventually, her passion for languages and books compelled her to re-route her career to literature. This led to a career break and a Masters Degree in English Literature; post which she took up a role at Wordit CDE & Leadstart, enabling her to work towards both her passions.

Chandralekha Maitra

With two decades of experience as a book publishing professional, Chandralekha began her career as a features writer and columnist, working with publications across India, before moving into book publishing full time, with India Book House. She received her training in editorial title management from Book House, London. Over the years she has worked with some of the finest publishing houses in India and overseas, and across genres and markets. She has also worked with Osian’s-Connoisseurs of Art, India’s first auction house, gaining in-depth exposure to research and publishing in the fine arts-antiquities-cultural heritage genres. Additionally she has had a parallel, specialist career in Human Resources, working at Group HR, Tata Group, among others. She continues to write, train and mentor in this domain as her publishing commitments allow.

Raj Supe

Aka Kinkar Vishwashreyananda, Raj Supe is a poet, storyteller and novelist, as well as a seeker and devotee of Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath. An MBA by education, his career spanned advertising, research and creative consulting, before devoting his time to literature and spirituality. His works include Three No Trumps (novel), Sagarika Anusagarika [Echoes of Nine Rivers] (poetry), Pilgrim of the Sky (spiritual memoir), and translations of religious texts such as Cloudburst of A Thousand Suns and Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari. He has also worked on film scripts with Ram Gopal Verma and Ashutosh Gowariker, and on plays with Makarand Deshpande.

Dr. Rabindra Kumar Nanda

An alumnus of IIT Kanpur, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Stanford University, Dr Nanda is also a National Science Talent Search Scholar. He holds five Patents and is a published author of 50 national and 52 international research papers.

Swarup Nanda

Swarup has over a decade and half’s experience in multiple business domains related to content. Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, he has worked with a couple of MNCs in the media space. His passion for literature and books is his motivation for building Leadstart.