Pride Month: India's LGBT Movement Continues To Face Challenges
NEW DELHI: The month of June is celebrated the world over as LGBT Pride month and it is the reason why the stickers on Snapchat and Instagram have transformed into rainbows overnight. This year marks the 49th year since the historic Stonewall Rebellion, which is considered the turning point for the struggle for equal rights for members of the LGBT community. Various aspects of the movement, such as pride parades, have been popular ever since 1970 and in several parts of the world, including India.
“Since the Delhi pride isn’t funded by corporates it is situated within a larger intersectional struggle against capitalist inequalities. The attempt is generally not to focus on us being simply LGBTQ but various forms of queer identity,” Aditya Arora*, an active member of the Gender Studies Cell at St. Stephen’s College told The Citizen on being asked about his views about the significance of Pride Marches in India. Kikili*, a third-year student in Delhi University expressed her appreciation for the Marches saying that it allowed for “a space to celebrate sexuality and be open about it in a heteronormative society while garnering support for equal rights.”
The movement, which aims at achieving equal rights for the members of the LGBT community who have been deemed ‘outcasts’ and ‘unnatural’ by society throughout the course of history, has seen significant progress in India in the last eight to nine years. The existence of a marriage website called ‘Wonderful Things Happen’ which caters to the lesbian community along with Qradio, India’s first radio station “that voices the advocacy, activism and lifestyle dialogue of the LGBT community” and Pink Pages, which has declared itself to be India’s national LGBT magazine, all point towards this crucial development of the movement in India.
Kiran, a member of the NAZ Foundation, India, however expressed her concern regarding the movement. “After the Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code in 2013 people find it difficult to openly support or come out as members of the LGBT community, which was not the case after the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling on the matter. There has been negligible positive change in attitude towards members of the community after 2013.” The severe backlash that the movement saw due to this judgement as voiced by Kiran is echoed by other LGBT rights activists as well.
When talking about the LGBT movement in India it is only natural to talk about the way it impacts and involves the ‘third gender’. These members of the transgender community received legal recognition only in 2014 wherein the Supreme Court declared that “recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue”. The Court restricted the definition of transgenders to include only those citizens that identified as neither male nor female, and it could not be extended to include all members of the LGBT community.
The Apex Court additionally directed the Centre and states to devise and implement social welfare schemes catered to the third gender community along with running a public awareness campaign to erase social stigma. Special toilets were also to be constructed for them and they were also directed to take any steps that would bring the unfairly marginalized members of the community to the main stream of society. (Times of India, April 15, 2014 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Supreme-Court-recognizes-transgenders-as-third-gender/articleshow/33767900.cms )
These directions of the Supreme Court have been not received the urgent attention of the Centre and states that they should. A member of the Sahodari Foundation commented on the matter saying that the directions have not been followed through. However, “states like Kerala are doing better” at catering to the social welfare of the members of the transgender gommunity.
Basic amenities such as washrooms have not yet been provided to the members of the ‘third gender’ in the capital of the country. Renowned hotels and restaurants still lack facilities to cater to these members of society thereby failing to acknowledge their existence altogether. This absolute disregard of directions provided by the highest judicial forum in India points to the complete failure of the State at looking after the welfare of its citizens.
Thus, it is not surprizing when Qradio tells us when we ask them if they received any contribution from members of the ‘third gender’ that although they did have an active station dedicated to the community, “the station stopped active operations because the community did not see value in having a voice through Q radio. Q radio was offered to the community to run it the way they saw fit but no one wanted to despite our offer to manage and fund it.” Sushmita Sarangi, a social worker, said when asked why she thought the community no longer saw value in having a voice, “If they cannot find acceptance in society even after the Apex court in the country demands it, then what use is their own voice which has already been successfully ignored for years.”.
The social stigma attached to members of the ‘third gender’ has seen negligible reduction. On asking members of Pride Marches their observations regarding the participation of the community, Aditya Arora said, “the thing about a queer parade is that it attempts to assert visibility. However, visibility is a fraught notion; Kothis and hijras are often disproportionately victims of police custodial violence (sexual and physical) and thus, being hyper visible does not work to their advantage…the leaders of the community had voluntarily not participated for a variety of reasons.”
Although the LGBT movement has come a long way in India and has made important changes in the country’s perception and attitude towards members of the LGBT community, exploring the reasons behind it not doing much to benefit the members of the ‘third gender’ is vital to its progress. Social stigma is currently holding a large section of our community back from asserting their individuality and exercising their rights, and therefore exploring plans and schemes that combat it is the need of the hour. It is worth noting however that with Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalizes sexual activities that go against the ‘order of nature’ still very firmly in place, any changes or implementations undertaken by the Centre or the states shall remain incomplete.
*Names changed to preserve anonymity