2017 has seen several big and small events marking the lives of LGBTQI Indians. College campuses have seen a proliferation of LGBTQI support groups and events. Mainstream Indian cinema is also addressing the issue more sensitively now. With the NALSA verdict of 2014 upholding transgender rights, measures are being initiated in higher educational institutes and workplaces to ensure inclusion and diversity. Some Indian companies like Godrej have adopted the UN’s ‘Standards of Conduct for Business’ to tackle homophobic discrimination at workplace. Young people are actively espousing LGBTQI equality on social media. While India continues to live under the shadow of Section 377 – a Victorian law that criminalizes same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults, the queer movement in India today is stronger than ever.
Here are four remarkable queer events from this year:
In June, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) created history by employing 23 transgender individuals through a round of written tests and interviews, and trained them to be inducted into the workforce. However, soon there were reports in the media about the transgender employees not being able to find accommodation in the city. A spokesperson of the KMRL was reported as saying that the company was unable to provide accommodation to the employees as they were appointed under a contract given to Kudumbasree, a women’s self-help group that had come on-board to man the first metro of the state.
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of India made a landmark judgement on the right to privacy. It denounced Section 377 in clear terms and observed that this law ‘poses a grave danger to the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity’. Given that the Supreme Court had in December 2013 reinstated Section 377 – in a drastic move from the Delhi High Court that decriminalized homosexuality in 2009 – and that a five-judge constitutional bench is yet to take a call on Section 377, the judgement on the right to privacy has certainly made the battle for LGBTQI rights easier.
In November, Delhi and Bangalore celebrated a decade of the Delhi Queer Pride and the Bengaluru Namma Pride. While the Delhi Pride March saw over 5,000 people, the Bangalore Pride had close to 7,000 participants. Both the Prides have grown tremendously over the decade, and championed LGBTQI visibility and the need for anti-discrimination policies. This year, one of the major demands of the Bangalore Pride was the repeal of Section 36-A of the Karnataka Police Act which allows the Commissioner to regulate and put transgender people under unwarranted surveillance. November as the Pride Month saw a host of rainbow-hued events across both the cities.
On December 17, transgender community members from across the country gathered at Parliament Street in New Delhi to raise their voices against the draconian provisions of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill. The bill had received widespread criticism when it was tabled in the Lok Sabha in August 2016 by the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot.
Following opposition from transgender community members and activists, the bill was sent to the standing committee on social justice and empowerment for consultation. However, the government has set aside the recommendations of the standing committee and is on its way to re-introduce the Transgender Bill of 2016 in the winter session of the Parliament. The bill, as it stands now, offers a very narrow, regressive and unscientific definition of a transgender person. It criminalizes the traditional Hijra livelihood of organized begging, pushes for the setting up of a screening committee to determine a transgender person (this being in direct violation of the NALSA verdict of 2014), and rejects reservation and other affirmative policies for transgender people, amongst other things.
Hopefully, 2018 will usher in a more fabulous year for LGBTQI people in the country. While the Supreme Court’s verdict on right to privacy is certainly a reason to celebrate, we are hoping the five-judge constitutional bench will take a progressive and rights-based approach on Section 377. The legal struggle apart, India is already seeing conversations around inclusion of queer people in schools, colleges, family and faith-based institutions. I hope 2018 will pave the way for a more inclusive, gender-just and LGBTQI-affirming world, where archaic laws like Section 377 and, homophobic and transphobic attitudes are done and dusted away!