Gaysi Family received a proactive request from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for a tête-à-tête with the LGBTIQ community. The party seemed keen to understand and include the community. The date of Sunday 6 April 2014 was fixed for a meeting at The Hive, a lovely hangout for discussions at the Khar-end of Carter Road. Queer Indians across the nation were looking up to this event, since the community has rarely seen politicians and political parties being so forthcoming when it came to understanding our lives and our issues. The discussion in Mumbai followed second in line after one in Delhi. This was very encouraging because a community, long silenced, was looking up to AAP as a glimmer of hope.
Before the Date
We all were looking forward to the AAP manifesto, which promised the inclusion of LGBTIQ rights. AAP has a grassroots approach, and it was easy for us to presume that the manifesto would stand up to our confidence in them. Much to our disappointment, far from being addressed in detail, LGBTIQ issues were conspicuously absent. We also had positive reactions from Su-raj party, Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist), but we looked forward to the AAP manifesto, which was a commitment on paper. There was a deep sense of disappointment felt in the LGBTIQ community. That much was promised and then denied added fuel to volatile emotions.
As for myself, I removed the phrase “AAP campaigner” from my Twitter profile, and tweeted my disappointment – it was like having angry loosies on twitter. Mayank Gandhi, a Lok Sabha candidate and a likely future MP from AAP was quick to call me up to reassure me that he would take up the matter with colleagues in Delhi. Meanwhile Onir, a dear friend and a national award winning filmmaker, announced his resignation in protest. This omission was seen as betrayal by the party.
On twitter, I was told that the manifesto was an ongoing document to which more issues would be added. Other issues too were missing, they said, conceding the issues were important. I held my ground and demanded that they put it in black-and-white. I was directed to the statement on the AAP website; it only mentioned that AAP was disappointed by the judgment on Section 377 that made homosexuality illegal. The community was not looking for sympathy but empathy, and more importantly, a commitment from AAP. It was not surprising that social media was abuzz. Detractors now had a pivot to insult LGBT supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party. I too received several caustic comments, though my skin by now is thicker than a crocodile’s. The controversy grew and the issue was now not solelybeing discussed by the LGBTIQ community alone. People used the discussion to call AAP an all-pleasing non-decisive party.
A Date to Remember?
We were doubtful if the event on 6 April 2014 was on. Many thought AAP had back-tracked on their commitment and would pull out of the meeting. We were wrong. On the day, as promised, the team of AAP arrived at The Hive to a visibly hostile and agitated crowd. It was very pleasant to see the candidate for Loksabha, Mr. Phiroze Palkhiwala along with the Maharashtra secretary of AAP, Preeti Sharma Menon. The room was jam jam-packed with the queer community, and supporters of LGBTIQ supporters and activists from the Topitopi-wala side. Nevertheless, it was no war. We had a cordial discussion with Lok Sabha candidate Phiroze Palkhiwala and Maharashtra secretary of AAP, Preeti Sharma Menon. The questions we asked were forthright and so were the responses. When Menon said other issues too were missing in the manifesto, the queer community maintained that no one issue was bigger or smaller than another. And the issue of queer rights is not a negligible one. I shared that ours was an invisible community in many aspects, ostracised for ages; we needed assurances, not just in word, but on paper.
Getting Straight to Queer
At the end of the long discussion, Menon confirmed that the issue of LGBT rights was indeed missing in the manifesto and we, the audience realised there would be no second edition of the manifesto. One after the other, everyone reiterated the need to see commitment for our cause on paper. And Menon, Palkhiwala and others reassured us that they were all for equal rights for the LGBTIQ. They told us that as a new party, AAP relied heavily on volunteerism. They invited people from the community to join in and partner in the exercise. It was also clear that the manifesto addressed issues that would score a point in the 2014 elections, excluding other issues.
Some members like Mona Ambegaonkar confirmed they had seen a mention of Transgender issues in the manifesto, but the same was missing in the final draft uploaded to the AAP website. Menon replied, saying that there was a state-specific manifesto where they gathered information, but all of it was compiled by Atishi Marlena from AAP in Delhi. While Menon, Palkhiwala and the team repeatedly reiterated their support for equal rights, the audience – mostly comprised of LGBTIQ supporters – was angry at attempts to justify the omission of LGBTIQ rights in the manifesto. The entire Aam Aadmi Party team was forced to admit that LGBTIQ rights should ideally have been addressed in the manifesto. When we asked for assurances on paper that they did indeed believe in LGBTIQ cause beyond simply stating that they were “disappointed”, Menon said that as a Maharashtra Convener, she could add it to the Maharashtra website. When we demanded a time, she confirmed she would update the website by Wednesday.
Menon sounded confident, and when she spoke about the cause I felt like believing her. More so, as she headed off from the venue straight to the Vakola police station to follow up on a gay extortion case. A day later, the case reached a conclusion. Menon had relentlessly followed up to ensure that the culprits who robbed and extorted a young gay man under the pretext of sex were caught. Till now I have only seen gay activists sit at different police stations to file cases against extortion. This was the first time I knew of someone other than the LGBT community standing up for gay rights. This one act made one believe in Menon and the party that she represents.
Personally, I think AAP scores over other parties in being proactive, approachable and grounded. However, it fails miserably in press relations, intra-party communications and web management. AAP needs to know that while responses to emails are highly appreciated, they have to be factually correct and should not leave any room for ambiguity. Overall, I believe there is room for us in this party. It is growing, and thus we – the LGBTIQ community – could plant our seed in it. Who knows? It could become a tree one day and then the fruits of change would turn the political tide in our favour.