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Why LGBT Issues Need To Be Politicised To Battle The Prejudices Against Them

By Aamir Qayoom:

Gay rights activists display a rainbow flag during "Queer Pride March" in New Delhi June 29, 2008. Hundreds of gay activists on Sunday took part in the march to raise awareness about their rights. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA) - RTX7GKD
Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

The Indian Supreme Court has decided to review a law criminalising homosexuality, and the transgender bill recently passed by the Indian parliament represents a change in thinking about ‘unnatural’ sex and sexuality of transgender people. This opens up the debate about the Section 377 of IPC in the public sphere. The decadal census data has already introduced the ‘other’ as a third gender since 2011 census. Educational institutions also have started offering the ‘other’ option while declaring one’s gender. It speaks volumes about the focus on the sexual minorities.

“My name is Imaan Khan (name changed) and I feel proud to call myself gay.” This was a comment by a boy at a recent conference on the topic ‘Islam and Homosexuality’. I was also present at the conference. The issue at hand has a double twist: first, homosexuality as per the secular law of the state is criminalised and second, Islam also has a prohibitory mention of the practice.

My two minute ‘Maggie intellectualism’ urged me to show a mindless reluctance to such a response. Things change if one moves out of this narrow cultural capsule and adapts to a multicultural and tolerant world outlook. Homosexuality in such ambience transforms itself to the status of ‘movement’, and there is much politics that needs to be done on the issue. This compels one to consider sex not merely as a private, but a political category.

With a large vault of intellectual dynamism, homosexuality as an issue finds great articulation and expression in gender studies, where students are not only taught LGBTIQ issues but their classrooms resound with such discourses by scholars and intelligentsia. The academic scholarship and activism (both radical and silent) on such issues at the higher seats of learning and in the public sphere is bound to produce an effect which catalyses the expressions of gay and lesbian identity. Hence, what boosts such discourses is the rise of LGBTIQ as an international movement which not only advocates but also fights for the cause of these sexual minorities globally. The fact that people are involved in such discourses internationally supports the idea that such an attempt aims at seeing through this issue, beyond thinking of it as an engineered western concept.

The mushroom growth of organisations, debates and discussions on the issue speaks volumes about the intellectual tsunami it has managed to create in the public psyche. But, the one major hurdle to the movement is that there are significant differences in the acceptance of homosexuality across cultures and societies.

Some countries provide asylum to people of different sexual orientations, others outrightly reject the legitimacy of such discourses (a few Muslim countries come to one’s mind). There are, therefore, two groups: one is supporting it and the other condemning it as unnatural, disgusting, immoral and above all un-Islamic. The varied reactions become a matter of personal freedom vs. categorical rejection of such practices as serious moral corruption and cultural terrorism. The negatively charged and infectious ambience opens up the issue to advertisement and discussions across book clubs, social gatherings, and online chats on social networking sites where one witnesses considerable activism in the form of dissent and concord related to such issues. A cursory analysis of the rise of this movement and its support from intellectual and political tycoons should be enough to take this debate to a serious level.

What needs to be pointed out is that the people upholding such ideas are influenced by the postmodernism and deconstructionism. By operationalising those categories and language, their titanic spirit questions the idea of ‘natural’, thereby making this issue more interesting and morally contentious. Can we delude ourselves into not thinking about this issue? The movement under the umbrella term LGBTIQ has already received political recognition as well as intellectual and ideological support from various corners of society.

There are competing conceptions of homosexuality leading to questions like: is there a gay gene? Is it an abnormal psychic condition? Is it a result of exposure to western infectious socialisation? These questions need to be debated. If one assumes that homosexuality is an outcome of socialisation or an exposure to a different world view. If this were the case then one could begin by establishing ‘conditioning centres’ where a provision can be made to ‘recondition’ or ‘un-condition’ their brains like drug rehabilitation and de-addiction centres. Still, a humane approach would be needed to tackle the issue. But, such steps should only be taken if they are scientifically declared in need of such treatment. Doesn’t it become a duty of the state to handle such issues? I wonder.

The flashbacks of the above-mentioned conference remind me that a prominent gay rights activist confessed that he was never attracted to the opposite sex. In fact, he had to visit sex workers to confirm his sexual orientation. What followed my interaction with him was an outright rejection of any connection of homosexuality with mental conditioning or exposure to the so-called western way of thinking and cultural terrorism. What we witness today is a growing phenomenon and a rising number of such individuals. Online and offline gay networking has prompted them to openly declare their sexual orientation. The motto of such networking is to continue their struggle for their identity.

The issue needs serious attention, where we cannot neglect the e-fights, unending frustrating chats on social networking sites, protests and demonstrations in support of such issues? How long will we continue to nurture the idea that it is a form of infectious cultural terrorism? One waits to see the Supreme Court’s decision on revisiting the law criminalising homosexuality. I wonder how long it would take. While coming out of that conference, I could hear a voice saying, “no use in defending ourselves, they are all sexists.” On the Supreme Court’s decision hang the hopes for serious engagement with this issue.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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