Queer Movement In India

Posted by Gurnaman Kaur
April 16, 2017

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The archaic definition of the word ‘queer’ may refer to something that is strange but in the contemporary terms, it broadly encompasses people living outside the gender and sexual norms of the society. It often acts as an umbrella to the closeted, the open and the ones who reject all possible labels, thus making it a fluid concept because of the ambiguity of its constituents.

Queerness itself is not a western import but its activism surely is. The Rigveda contains the phrase ‘what seems unnatural is also natural’ which can easily be made to refer to the queer context. Ancient artefacts, scriptures, mythological works and paintings have openly hinted towards queerness (homosexuality, bisexuality etc) that was prevalent way before it was deemed ‘strange’.

Especially in India and South-Asian regions, the sexual and erotic aspects of the human life are generally not considered a part of sociology at all and outrightly excluded, as a result of which, the protests and movements pertaining to them are often ignored or sidelined. We like to go hush hush about topics relating to sexuality and often push them under the rug so much so that the idea of feminism entered the Indian scenario as late as the 1980s. Heterosexuality, which was hugely integral to colonialism, harmonises with the patriarchal roots of the Indian society to such a massive extent that any sexual act apart from the ‘conventional’ penile-vaginal penetration is deemed unnatural by law.

The pre-colonial section 377 of the IPC criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. The winds of change started to blow in 2009 when a Delhi High Court judgment decriminalised sexual acts between consenting adults after the famous Naz Foundation protests. This was soon challenged and finally, in 2013, the Supreme Court reversed the proceeding judgment leaving many dumbstruck and disappointed in the system. In 2015 Shashi Tharoor tried to mend the damages, all in vain as of now.

The societal construct of gender is also characterised as binary in the Indian context. ‘Hijras’ (eunuchs) are male to female transsexual/transgender people who do not recognise with being either males or females, but as the third gender-both unique and one of their own. They are often exploited and denied of many opportunities to progress in life. Despite all this, they are now listed as ‘others’ instead of male and female and in 2014, the government formally recognised them as the third gender that is also entitled to reservation in education and jobs.

India is a highly homophobic country. Statistically talking, about 2.5 million people in India are reported to be gay and eunuchs form about 5-6 million of the population. The ‘minority’ practically has zero access to the law. Usually caught in a constant battle to conceal their identities, they are under a perpetual fear of both social stigma and legal action. They prove to be the outliers in our society, threatening patriarchy and the status quo that are deeply embedded in our system. Cases of abuse, harassment, unfair treatment, oppression, violence, blackmail and extortion (sometimes even by the police) are often left unreported, rendering them helpless.

Even though the protests and movements in India originate from the western cultures, we must recognise that these people at the end of the day are valid citizens of the country. People need to be sensitised and made aware of the various atrocities that fall upon them. The fundamental rights of dignity and privacy, within can simply not be denied to any citizen regardless of preferences pertaining to their identity and sexuality. What goes on in the bedroom shouldn’t be of any one else’s concern.

All oppression, whether it is caste related, gender related, etc., must be treated equally. Women groups have been hugely supportive of the queer activism movement in India often being a part of parades and theatre presentations. Gender-related marginalisation must be brought to the fore and should be considered a political as well as a social issue.We must not be afraid to use the F-word(Feminism) and also understand its true meaning.

The question, however, remains how do we remove the social stigma after years and years of regressive thinking? All it takes is time. With continued efforts and perseverance, it will happen. We will be able to wave rainbow-hued flags proudly and will not be lathi-charged for it. A man will not once hesitate to peck his partner on the lips. A transgender will not be rejected from a job interview citing anything other than aptitude as a reason.


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