Queer representation in politics and governance has always been a contentious debate among the community that is not only fractured along the lines of class, caste, region, and religion, but also on grounds of political ideology. Ever since the partial scrapping of section 377 by the Indian Supreme Court on 6 September 2018, the question that has come to haunt most of us is, where do we go from here? One of the things that almost all of us agree with is that we still do not have visible representation in policy making bodies, in political parties, and other administrative positions. How do we then respond to this crisis?
It must be mentioned at this point that we already have had a few instances of queer people being political officeholders in India. For instance, Shabnam “Mausi” Bano, a transgender person, was an MLA at the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998 to 2003. Madhu Bai Kinnar was elected as the mayor of Raigarh, Chhattisgarh in 2015. These, and a few others are, however, lone examples and do not ascertain the fact that we have had queer representation in politics.
Whenever I come to think about queer representation in politics and governance, I am met with two difficulties. Firstly, what is at stake when somebody demands the representation of a queer person on a political platform? This demand is accompanied by a concurrent demand—that of making the ‘knowledge’ of someone’s sexuality and/or gender public. If the idea of gender and sexuality is ephemeral, fluid, and continuously metamorphosing, then pinning it down to regimes of certainty for the purpose of securing representation can be a strategic win, but definitely a political defeat. Secondly, one can discern a very strong conservative, right-wing, nationalist voice within the queer community. While thinking about queer representation, we need to ask ourselves, who would represent whom? I certainly do not wish to be represented by somebody who peddles hatred in name of religion and caste. Given the fact that several factions and groups—such as Hindu queer groups, Dalit queer groups, Muslim queer groups—constitute the queer movements in India, it is nearly impossible to find a representative voice for the community who can represent the interest of everyone.
How do we then tackle this problem? I would suggest that to address this issue, we need to move away from our understanding of queerness as an ‘identity’ to queerness as a ‘way of life’ – the former is an absolute position, the latter is an indefinite political ground. The non-identitarian queer need not carry the mark of sexuality, and/or gender on their body but is driven by a vision of radical democracy, communal harmony, anti-caste, anti-homo/transphobia, and all other forms of discriminatory practices on the grounds of ability, class, police brutality and others. The anti-identitarian queer will not just be a queer representative in politics and governance, but will be able to critique the logics of representation, expose its limits, and instead of merely governing, question the structures of power that inform governance. The work of the queer communities and movements in India will not just be to ‘find’ such a representative, but to ‘build’ it and perform the difficult labour of recognizing that freedom is oftentimes a lonely place. As fellow queers, we must create mechanisms to support the excruciating loneliness of our ‘queer’ representative.
Rahul Sen is a PhD candidate at the Department of English at Tufts University. His areas of interest revolve around psychoanalysis, queer theory, and literary studies. He is a pleasure seeker, and a sucker for everything campy, kitschy, and extra!