Capitalism, probably the most evil c-word, has permeated through all our lives at the institutional levels and is rapidly monetizing off all our values, ethics and sentiments. This monopolization of the popular sentiments of historically marginalized communities isn’t new in this economy. Come women’s day there is a hoard of brands giving discounts and offers, ‘celebrating womanhood’ through one dimensional ads while having no part reflection in any sort of corporate policies pertaining to sexual assault, maternity leave or even employee gender ratios. The same companies celebrate mayday, while fleecing of minimum wage workers and unpaid interns, convince us to give up plastic while dumping tonnes of wastes in the oceans and so on and so forth. In the new era of slacktivism, these performative, low effort ways to support causes take the lead and promote a new wave of consumerism in the economy. With section 377 being struck down last year, Rainbow capitalism has washed over India all at once.
Rainbow capitalism or pink capitalism has only emerged in the Indian subcontinent recently. It works towards the incorporation of the queer movement into the market economy to appeal to these communities, especially the higher and middle classes, with high consumption expenditures. The Indian queer community has a newfound economic autonomy post the decriminalization of this archaic law. With a more acceptance and increased visibility, at least in urban spaces, the queer community has seen an increase in employment, primarily self employment and freelance ventures. However formal employment, especially for transgender and other gender non conforming people is still very meagre. However, interestingly, the lack of adoption and marriage rights translates into lesser sustenance expenditure, especially for those that come from less hostile backgrounds. The purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ people, ie, pink money has gone up in the recent past. This estimated rise in consumption expenditure is estimated to account for 0.4 to 1.6% of the GDP.
Capitalism, and the vague notion of awareness that it spreads has interestingly, been credited for propelling the queer liberation movement forward. Some theorists link the growth of capitalism to the growth of the queer movement. Capitalism, which replaced feudalism, gave individuals a relative autonomy and sense of self governance. This morphed into greater self expression, and led to more people ‘coming out of the closet’ and the subsequent increase in visibility. While this also led to a more overt opposition, the LGBT front fought back more drastically with newfound self agency. The rise in pink capitalism can be seen in three phases. The first was the underground phase, functioning covertly in the form of gay bars and print magazines under fascist regimes. Later followed the community building phase that kick started collective liberation, and also led to a vehement increase in the opposition. With the dawn of the new millennium we move into a phase that works into integration of media culture and several subcultures which is driven by differentiated agendas but arbitrarily driven by same belief in human rights and self expression.
This pride month, the first after the milestone 377 verdict, there are a gazillion campaigns projected in the face of the desi queer community. This propaganda comes in the form of VIBGYOR brand names, adverts with vague references to same sex couples, stylized t-shirts and mugs and anything that can fleece of the middle class in the name of pride. Each campaign is carefully altered to fit the narrative of ‘love is love’ without actually doing little towards materializing the equality, acceptance and inclusivity they preach. Inherently, rainbow capitalism like all other forms of capitalism is exploitative, and the real motive behind all this propaganda isn’t as gay as it seems.
Firstly, these schemes are hollow. They tackle queer issues at the surface level, boil it down to ‘love is love’ and fail to address the deeper problems that lie within. Majority of the campaigns, portray this issue not as a tangible social marginalization but as a celebratory occasion. While yes, it is celebratory, what is required is deeper understanding and addressal that does not celebrate the miniscule symbolic victory we’ve had but instead paves a path for the journey ahead.
Also, these programs project their notion of visibility back to the same groups they derive it from. There is no real attempt to broaden its reach to wider audiences that could actually do with so called ‘awareness’ and if at all there is, it is limited to cisgender uppercaste narratives. There aren’t enough behind these campaigns which make them shallow and also, generate no immediate benefit to queer people.
Furthermore, campaigns like these portray the movement as divorced from politics. The slogans limit to expressionism, and several problems like hate crimes, conversion therapies, forced marriages, corrective rape etc are not addressed. These ’buzz kill’ truths are done away with and the entire LGBTQIA+ population of India becomes one hypersexual demographic that wears rainbow socks and has same sex encounters in south Delhi jazz bars. It homogenises the group to its most lucrative front and is elitist in its very premise. Increasingly, the lines of caste, class, language and ethnicity are erased and desi queers become one united gay front. Transgender people are easily subdued in the campaigns, non binary and intersex folks are rarely mentioned. Clothing brands have a Pride collection, but still strictly stock ,even socks, in the binary of women and men. Clothing for non binary people finds no mention in these pride catalogues. What is that to say for a moment you so outspokenly support, but learn nothing from?
More importantly, the so called ‘queer friendly’ companies have skewed employment of queer people. Groups like TATA have rainbow coloured logos, but their employment of transpeople is still questionable.
Recruitment, job security is still a far dream for most of the people. Even if hired, majority of them keep their identity secret and stringent dress codes, binary washrooms contribute to the erasure of these identities in public spaces. There is no stringent corporate policy against harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Also, where does all the queer merch come from? Several designs are stolen of queer artists and manufacturing is done in sweatshops in third world countries. It seems very convenient to bargain on ‘social issue’ for the promotion of another.
These arbitrary references to queer issues have arisen only after the decriminalization. Prior September 2018, gay narratives weren’t even mentioned and businesses were the last pressure groups to wake to the needs of these community. Now, within legal tandem this process of global exploitation has unfolded but not to propel the movement but to benefit of it. Majority of these companies do not even take articulated stands but just paint a few rainbows here and there.
However, visibility and its power cannot be undermined. The rainbow capitalism may not drive the queer movement ahead but it still it one bolt in this whole machinery of visibility, acceptance and inclusion. The LGBTQIA+ movement that is based on shared experiences of resistance and independence from powerful institutions is being sucked back into its hold. It is hard to ignore the blackened hands that paint these rainbows. The question of being a true ally also comes into place, for the good intentions of these programs are severely doubtful if this rainbow capitalism hoards the space of unheard queer voices and takes the mic from queer narratives rather that echoing the fundamentals of this movement.