Why Were 51 Queer Youth Charged With Sedition At Mumbai Pride?

There is a deliberate rift being created within the queer community in India,” says Rachana, a founding member of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Trans Samiti (THITS). She shares a panel with four other trans and gender non-conforming persons, addressing a gathering of journalists at the Press Club of India in New Delhi. Rachana is referring to a disturbing situation that unfolded after Mumbai’s Queer Azadi March on February 1.

(L-R) Law student Ray, Rachana of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Trans Samiti, and Hasratein’s Kaushal, addressing the incident at Mumbai Pride.

Fifty-one attendees were picked up by the police and charged with sedition, for ‘raising anti-national slogans’. This was after BJP leader Kirit Somaiya submitted a video of people at Pride protesting the Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizens. Their placards and slogans were nothing out of the ordinary. For weeks, Indians in various cities have been protesting the blatantly anti-Muslim and anti-Constitution triad of CAA-NPR-NRC. But to file sedition charges against 51 people is truly a feat.

It was because “other queer people threw them under the bus”, says Ray, a law student, also on the panel. And this is perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole episode.

A community that unanimously raged against a colonial-era law like Section 377 now appears to be divided over Section 124A, sedition, equally oppressive and colonial. There is one camp that believes in the right to protest against an oppressive State, and the other camp has aligned itself with the State. What we are witnessing is the rise of homonationalism, as queer people link their rights to nationalist ideology. For the homonationalists, ‘India’, a unidimensional identity that necessarily excludes persons, takes precedence over everything.

Activist and former TISS student Vihaan reads out the sequence of events that unfolded in Mumbai.

So why is this happening? Kaushal, of the Hasratein queer collective in Delhi, argues that some people are now invested in being ‘The Good Queer’, to meet the expectations of Hindutva forces, and reap the benefits. As for ‘The Bad Queer’? The queer who calls out casteism, who calls out ableism, who stands in solidarity with the women of Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, and Aligarh Muslim University? There’s a target on their backs.

When channels of solidarity and resistance between queer Indians are being torn apart, the implications are severe. Mumbai Pride itself is an example. Not only were many of the detained charged with sedition, but they were forcefully outed in public. Outings have cost queer people their homes, their families, and even their lives. On the panel at Press Club, activist Vihaan says, “These were 21- and 22-year-olds who were just beginning to be confident about who they are, and who thought Mumbai Pride was a safe space.” He was sad to see that Queer Azadi March representatives didn’t protect the young people at Azad Maidan.

Karthik Bittu at the press conference in Press Club of India.

The homonationalists’ defence of the Citizenship Act, at the expense of trans youth, sets another dangerous precedent. Karthik Bittu, also a founding member THITS, sees it as another tool of harassment. “If someone doesn’t want a trans person in their neighbourhood, they can raise questions about their citizenship to the local registrar of citizens. This is another route by which trans people can get sent to detention camps.

Shockingly, this doesn’t seem to be a rallying point for all of India’s queer groups. It has been said elsewhere that “homonationalists are pawns of their own erasure.” But looking at Mumbai, things much more sinister than erasure are at work.

In the queer community, marginalisation runs deeper than just gender and sexuality. There are queer people who are Dalit, Muslim, disabled, adivasi people, people who come from low-income families, people who do not have access to education and health care, people who are not a part of the Kitty Su-going elite. And the CAA-NPR-NRC will affect them in ways that homonationalists refuse to acknowledge.

It is for those people that 51 Pride attendees expressed solidarity. And for that, they were accused of being anti-India.

Images courtesy of the author.
Featured Image source: Richa Vashista/Facebook.
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