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From Textbooks To TV: India Is Going Queer And We’re Here For It!

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LGBTQIA+ communities in India have a hard time because of societal stigma and heteronormative systems. No one can deny this fact. But often, we fail to look at the (incremental) victories of queer people and communities.

Assertions and agitations by Indian queer people have set us on the path to (eventual) liberation.

What were some such landmark moments this year which gave young and queer Indians the hope that our future is not as bleak as bigots would like us to believe?

A photo showing queer couple in love and empowered
2021 has been a year with some landmark moments for queer folks.

#1 Medical Textbooks Can’t Be Queer Negative Anymore!

The Madras High Court issued a directive saying that all derogatory references to queer people must be removed from medical textbooks. Textbooks of subjects such as forensic medicine, toxicology and psychiatry contain outdated and unscientific information about LGBTQIA+ people and the notion of virginity.

Following this, the National Medical Commission (NMC) directed all medical colleges to remove “unscientific” information from textbooks and courses. Be it undergraduate or postgraduate medical courses, the NMC said that:

“Wherever the issue of gender or [of a] similar kind arise, the mention of clinical history or complaints or signs and symptoms, examination findings or history about nomenclature shall not be taught in such a way that it becomes [or can be] perceived in any way [to be] derogatory or discriminatory or insulting to [the] LGBTQIA+ community.”

This is an important step as medical professionals are often bigoted towards queer people, partly because of their own beliefs and partly because of what they have been taught in college.

Many of them end up thinking of queer people as being perverted, criminals. Their internal bigotry often ends up getting reinforced by the rubbish they are taught about queer people in the class. This makes them treat queer clients insensitively—which is clearly not okay.

two men in love gay queer pride lgbtq mlm train - still from ABU
The fact that there is a national debate around the issue of queer people having the right to marry our partners is unprecedented. Representational image.

#2 The Debate Around Marriage Equality Has Reached The Courts!

Although it doesn’t look like the central government is open to the idea of queer people having the right to marry our partners, the fact that there is a national debate around the issue is unprecedented.

The centre’s stand is hypocritical because the Bharatiya Janata Party has long been trying to bring about a Uniform Civil Code in India, under the pretext of granting everyone equal marriage rights, among other things.

However, never before has there been a time when the highest court in the land has pondered over the marriage rights of queer people, at such length (not to mention the backdrop of a slew of progressive and queer-affirmative judgments such as the one to do with queer people’s right to privacy).

#3 NEET Saw The Highest Number Of Trans People Who Qualified This Year!

Dr Aqsa Shaikh, a medical professional and trans woman, who regularly fights for the rights of trans people within the medical fraternity and even otherwise, tweeted that the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) saw the highest number of trans candidates who have ever qualified, this year.

Eight people, whose documents say they are trans, have qualified for the test meant for MBBS and BDS programmes in Indian medical and dental colleges.

It is to be noted that many trans people get “recorded” within the binary of male and female, meaning that their documents don’t reflect their gender as trans. With that being said, this victory is still a big one!

Dr Shaikh said that this should be seen as an indicator of the fact that when trans people are given the opportunity, they can excel in any field, be it a medicine or anything else.

“Nothing for us, without us” has become a popular catchphrase among young, queer Indians, who want to be actively involved as far as medical facilities and interventions are concerned.

We lost Anannyah Kumari Alex, a trans woman from Kerala, to suicide, because she couldn’t cope with the way the hospital who performed a (botched) surgery on her, treated her.

If we have more people from the trans community working within the field of medicine, one can be sure that slowly but surely, the field will become more sensitive to the needs and plight of trans people, who approach health professionals and hospitals seeking gender-affirming surgeries and interventions such as hormones, therapy etc.

#4 Positive Representation In Advertisements!

Be it the Bhima Jewellers ad featuring a trans woman, or the Dabur Fem Bleach ad featuring a lesbian couple—we saw many ads this year with queer people as the central characters, and the plotlines revolving around our struggles and sweet moments.

They did court some controversy, as the former was criticised for pushing a brahminical idea of marriage; and the latter for promoting colourism using queerness.

Also, many queer people believe that one shouldn’t be all gung-ho about these ads, because they only reflect capitalists’ eagerness to co-opt anything and everything that appears profitable and makes them look ‘woke’. I do agree with both lines of criticism.

But, I would like to play the devil’s advocate for a minute and point out that the visibility these ads bring about can’t be sidelined.

At the end of 2020, India had 210 million TV sets. So, one can assume that the many, many people who own these 21 crore TV sets might have watched one of these ads.

Why is this important? It is important because not only do such ads contribute to normalising queerness within Indian households, it also gives ordinary queer people a chance to see themselves reflected on-screen.


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Queer people might have ordinary dreams, dreams which might seem like we are aping our cis-heterosexual peers, on the surface. However, given the oppression queer people face, even ordinary goals take extraordinary strength to achieve.

#5 A Trans Bodybuilder Won The Mr Kerala Title!

Praveen Nath is a trans man and a bodybuilder from Palakkad, Kerala. He currently lives in Thrissur and works for a queer advocacy organisation known as Sahayathrika.

Praveen and his coach, Vinu Mohanan, convinced authorities from the Body Building Association of Kerala to have a separate category for trans men. Although the authorities resisted initially, they gave in to Praveen and Vinu’s unshakeable determination.


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It’s trans pioneers like Praveen and trans allies like Vinu who make the world a more equal place for queer people. Praveen might have been the only competitor in his category, but that doesn’t make his win any less historic.

Apart from Aryan Pasha, there aren’t that many names that come to mind when one thinks of trans masculine bodybuilders. But now, Praveen has managed to make his presence felt.

Young trans men who hope to become bodybuilders will surely see both of them as an inspiration. Even those who don’t want to will get an added push to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.

If they can do it, why can’t we?”

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        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.

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        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.”

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        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.

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        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
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        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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