Good Karma: Russian Monk’s Gender Affirmative Journey & Why Bengaluru is the Preferred Destination

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Karma, a 29-year-old Russian monk, didn’t grow up with this name. He took the name when he decided to make a life-changing decision. Karma landed in Bengaluru at a friend’s suggestion two months ago and underwent sex reassignment surgery at Bengaluru’s KARO Clinic in Aveksha Hospital.

“I have always been on my own. A friend from the transgender community suggested I visit Bengaluru for the surgery and that’s how I landed here. I took my vows of Buddhism by the end of 2018. As a child, I didn’t identify as a girl. I always wished I were a boy. By the time I reached teenage, I had a clear picture of my sexuality by observing trans-people around me,” Karma told News18.

“I haven’t come out to my parents yet. There are no such detailed procedures in Russia in a safe environment. Hence, I opted for India. Also the financial things had to be worked out. My family lives in Russia, so I didn’t want to get the surgery there. The centre here has given me a discount as well. My friend from the LGBTQ community told me that it is affordable in Bengaluru. That is true,” he added.

Glad of the decision he made, Karma said he now feels liberated. “I am more free than an average person. I shall certainly continue to follow my vows and am still learning about my body. But feeling happy about the decision I made.”

Destination Bengaluru

The doctor who helped Karma through the change is Dr Roshan Shetty, a plastic surgeon with KARO Clinic at Aveksha Hospital in north Bengaluru. His team comprises a urologist, three plastic surgeons, a psychiatrist and an endocrine specialist. Dr Shetty undertakes sex reassignment surgeries along with Dr Karthik Vishwanath, another plastic surgeon.

Karma heard about the doctor and the clinic through a friend, and is one of many people heading to Bengaluru of late to opt for sex reassignment surgeries.

Explaining the emergence of Bengaluru as a preferred destination for the surgeries, Dr Roshan Shetty said, “Firstly, it is the quality of healthcare. Bengaluru is the favorite of people wanting an array of specialised surgeries because of the quality of overall healthcare. Indian doctors are preferred by a larger part of the world because we attend to 20 times more cases than the US or Europe. Hence, the skills are better.”

“Also, specialists here are highly qualified and well-trained abroad. The overall cost of healthcare is also very less. It is almost 1/5th to 1/10th of the cost elsewhere. Medical tourism is also a factor here. People can get their procedures done during the holidays. The demand is the highest for cosmetic procedures,” he added.

The Journey

Sex reassignment surgeries, however, are different from others given the psychological weight of the decision.

“It is not an easy process for anyone to just walk into a clinic and get the surgeries. There is very strict protocol in place for international patients seeking sex reassignment surgery,” said Dr Karthik Vishwanath.

Elaborating on the protocol, he said, “Firstly, the patient opting for the surgeries should undergo hormonal therapy for six months. They should then change their name suiting the opted gender. This allows them to agree with or deny their thoughts.”

He added that patients should next seek psychiatric opinion. “There are two psychiatric disorders associated with such cases that the specialists diagnose. Gender dysphoria (a condition that describes a sense of unease a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity) and body dysmorphic disorder (where one can’t stop thinking themselves as being the other sex). The psychiatrist will treat them accordingly and then issue a letter giving a nod that the person is mentally ready and suited to undergo the surgery.”

The patients then travel to the desired destination and an affidavit is made. Another psychiatric approval is recommended before going in for the surgery. The patient should also be travelling on a medical visa.

Rhinoplasty, abdominoplasty, breast augmentation, hair transplant and scar removal are the most common procedures plastic surgeons are asked to perform. But there is also demand for breast removal and genital realignment among people opting for sex reassignment.

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