This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Edwin Thomas. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

At A Queer Pride Event In Bengaluru, I Saw How Privilege Operates Within The Movement

More from Edwin Thomas

By Edwin Thomas

I was all decked up and ready to go. It was the first time that I was going to attend an event organised in the name of Queer Pride. Sure, it was a talent show, not a march, but I was happy nevertheless. For someone who grew up in Dubai, Pride-themed events were not exactly an annual thing. So when I came to Bengaluru, India, I was actually thrilled to be able to attend something of this kind.

I was due to perform with a friend and I had a cheerleading squad of close friends and classmates. When we finally got there, it was nice and… different. But there was something odd. The area was clearly divided into two: on my left were people who seemed to look more like me, most of them having a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other, engaging in casual conversations and some harmless flirting. On my right seemed to be members of Bengaluru’s thriving trans community adorned in their local attire. The latter seemed to have been left to their own wits, many of them bored and some of them even clueless.

What unfolded thereafter was a clear example of how hierarchy creeps into queer spaces.

Class Privilege

With a performance ahead of me, I needed to get some warm-up done, so I go right into the host building, where there was a sale of goodies, sweets (Indian and foreign), drinks, artwork, fancy attire, masks and all things gay. The pricing started at around Rs. 200 and only went up from there. It was way out of our college budget. But I noticed that not a single trans person from the above mentioned category were anywhere to be found in the vicinity.

“To exercise sexuality in India is still a matter of your class privilege,” said my Cultural Studies professor in college. Her explanation was not limited to theory. From being able to choose a safe neighbourhood to live in and picking the right kind of clothes, to choosing the best pub in town to party the following weekend, your class privilege dictates whether you will be able to afford that 500 rupee jar of jam at a fundraiser, or attending fabulous Pride events like the one we were at.

Caste Privilege

Your caste privilege is not too different. My Indian Literatures professor will tell you that in India, your caste will more or less determine your class even to this day. The Indian LGBTQ movement is sadly not immune to the plague of caste and it drives our notions of the ‘movement’ as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with pondering over queer struggles at your neighbourhood Starbucks but at the same time we should be able to check the privilege that enables us to do so. To think that the queer community, in its entirety, faces systemic oppression on the same plane is fanciful thinking at its best. If we can get straight allies to think about heterosexual privilege, there are those among us who need to understand our inherent caste privilege too.

It is not an accident when the mother of prominent gay activist Harish Iyer had put out a ‘grooms wanted’ advertisement like this:

Seeking 25-40, well placed, animal loving, vegetarian groom for my son 36, 5 11′ who works with an NGO caste no bar (though Iyer preferred).”

Those last three words seem to overshadow the progressive nature of such a step. Sure, Iyer later said that the reason he did that was because he wanted someone from ‘familiar territory’ but in a country like ours, our relationship with caste has never been that easy. For generations now, our rocky relationship with caste has taken on multiple deep-rooted layers of sanitation, which is reflected in the discomfort that we show. This has been easily carried forward to the queer movement too.

Privilege Of Knowledge

The idea that it takes a Brahmin, who is dressed ‘appropriately’, looks presentable and speaks fluent English, to represent queer people as a whole and articulate our problems because of the knowledge that person possesses is again not a coincidence. The relationship between Brahmins and knowledge is something that has sustained itself in ways that are more subtle in modern times. Who is able to possess this kind of knowledge matters a great deal.

Note the kind of language many of us use to talk about queerness and so on. If we are citing theory, it can’t be brushed off simply as the result of attending college classes. If you can take up admission in an arts school and sit in a class on queer theory, that is privilege. If you are able to to cite Judith Butler’s theory on gender performativity and Michel Foucault’s work on social constructivism, that is privilege.

It’s important to note, also, that our ‘movement’ has borrowed quite a bit of its structure from its Western counterparts (which explains a lot about its whole ‘civil rights’ discourse); and the people who have access to that kind of knowledge end up being people who are privileged enough to learn English and follow Lady Gaga’s passionate speeches. It’s not a matter about “not all upper-caste…” or other arguments of that kind but an inherent place of excess that one is advantaged to speak from.

Organisational Privilege

Recently, I had spoken to an activist named Felix who works for Orinam, an LGBT support group in Chennai, about the build-up towards the recently concluded Chennai International Queer Film Festival. When I had asked him about how the cultural domain of film festivals are not inclusive, he commented on how something as simple as subtitles can make so much difference and he admitted that while those were baby steps, he is still “very open to making it more inclusive.

Once again, that panel discussion following a film screening will consist of prominent thinkers dissecting the film to its very bits. It takes an audience who understands that type of a discourse to be able to engage in those types of discussions. Ask yourself, who attends film festivals, frequently takes up leadership positions at NGOs, appears on social and mainstream media circles as ‘activists’ and is able to climb up these organisational ladders to speak on our behalf. What will their priorities and sensibilities be like?

All of these privileges affect the way we organise, what resources we have at our disposal and how we ultimately put those resources to task.

Cultural Privilege

The Bangalore Pride event got me thinking. Who was the audience that they had in mind while planning and organising an event of this sort? Because if it was only aimed at people like me, rich and privileged queer people, then they did a good job. But was it good enough? Think about it this way: there is an organising committee who decides these details; if it’s underrepresented due to lack of means to power, only certain sensibilities will end up being taken care of. It was not an accident; it was a conscious effort to reflect the wider ethos and culture of the LGBTQ community as having a kind of privileged lifestyle.

The evening progressed with beautiful songs, performance poetry and what not. We all seemed to be having a great time excepting a lull on the other side of the venue filled with bored audience members. Billy Joel and Lady Gaga were clearly not on their playlists and they seemed to be tuning out of what was happening. But soon enough, the really popular “Chammak Challo” started blaring from the speakers and that got the entire venue on its feet. It shook up the upper-class music sensibilities and managed to cater to an audience that seemed to be excluded from the whole thing. Hell, it was the best part of the evening. Something as simple as choosing a playlist comes from placing a certain sensibility over the other, and not from a place of inclusivity.

Intersectionality – It’s Not Just For Feminism

Queer theory emerged from feminist theory, and both questioned the humanistic view that sexuality and gender was inherent and not subject to flux.

Today, if we have anything to learn from the feminist movement, it is that we must be more inclusive in our thought about how oppression – in its layered and complicated form – affects people occupying different subject positions, differently. Queerness is not the only way through which a person may have to face oppression. This is why we have to incorporate intersectionality in our discourse.

The queer movement is not an exception to class however it is necessary that we stand together and try to understand each other and exploring intersectionality. This is because it is easier to fight for a cause when we stand together as a community rather than individually. It is useful for the marginalised to come together,” added Felix when asked on the issue of classism in the Indian queer movement.

How we can ‘come together’ and on whose terms, is yet to be seen but it is absolutely necessary at this point to to look at the larger picture, and the intersection of issues to understand how we make sense of our sexuality.

It is of utmost importance to remember that ‘privilege’ inherently is not a thing to be ashamed about. Our subject positions in society are not our doing. But if we want our movement to be truly inclusive, our way of thinking must be more inclusive. This starts by recognising one’s place of privilege.

You must be to comment.

More from Edwin Thomas

Similar Posts

By Ankita Marwaha

By Natasa Aziz

By Deeksha Gupta

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below