Queer rights in India have seen both peaks and valleys in the past two years. While we bid good riddance to Section 377 after a hard-fought battle, the loophole-ridden Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 was also passed in Parliament despite vehement disapproval from the trans community. As fascist forces rise and threaten to muzzle the voice of the public, it is high time we hold our elected officials accountable.
Gaysi was overjoyed to learn that Pink List India launched State of the QUnion, a fantastic digital archive at the intersection of politics and queer rights, last Sunday. Sleekly designed, State of the QUnion includes an interactive map that lets users find out their parliamentarians’ stand on queer communities in constituencies across India. A report card highlights their position as well as any statements made on homophobia and transphobia, trans rights, trans bill, Section 377, and LGBTQ+ rights. The extensive efforts by Pink List India reveal that merely 27.8% (151 of the 543 MPs) have been vocal on LGBTQIA+ issues – and this includes the homophobes! While the present establishment the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) leads in absolute terms with 89 outspoken members, 56 of whom have made positive statements, the 10 explicitly anti-queer statements by a party also come from BJP. Meanwhile, CPI, NCP, and Congress lead in terms of percentage of pro-queer rights politicians, at 50%, 40%, and 34.62% respectively.
State of the QUnion comes exactly a year after the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. It builds on Pink List India’s earlier efforts released in April 2019 that highlighted some of the trailblazers, change-makers, outspoken allies, and allies of queer rights in the country. The brainchild of Pink List India is the 20-something Anish Gawande, Director of Dara Shikoh Fellowship, and a Rhodes Scholar. Anish left for abroad to complete his graduation at Columbia University, never expecting Indian politics to ever be a safe space for queer people. He was pleasantly surprised then to receive a call from former Congress MP Milind Deora, who brought him on board his Lok Sabha election campaign in 2018. “I left for India soon after graduation. Before working with Milind for the South Mumbai election campaign, I travelled across rural Maharashtra with the Congress on their Jan Sangharsh Yatra and found unexpected queer allies who neither had any perks nor promise of fame for being vocal on LGBTQIA+ rights. This made me wonder who was actually speaking out about queer issues in the Indian political space – and who was getting recognised”. Pink List India co-creator Smriti Deora, a freelance graphic designer and entrepreneur, adds, “Yes, there are some politicians who might just touch upon queer issues as a way to check off things rather than doing anything concrete for the community”. The fieldwork undertaken for Pink List offered insights into the ideologies of the various political parties. “Times were different when we made the first list. Back then, we had little hopes from the Supreme Court. We really needed a wakeup call for politicians that queer issues were something they needed to be open about”.
The glowing praise for Pink List India set Anish and Smriti on the ambitious plan to expand its mission. The nature of the task demanded additional support. Smriti reveals, “We got some onboard through a Hackathon event for the anti-discrimination policy we had organized in Bangalore. Our team expanded very organically and includes two straight allies as well. Our volunteers span Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and other cities. Of the ten members who worked on The State of the QUnion, we knew just two outside the digital space”. The 10-member team worked assiduously over two months, searching through every possible source for politicians’ views on queer rights, from televised Lok Sabha debates to obscure Facebook posts. The team was pleasantly surprised to find support from less likely places. Equally revelatory was the conflicting stance of several politicians, as Anish elaborates, “The whole and sole purpose of Pink List was archiving and not endorsing a candidate. It was likely that some persons supported queer issues, but did not warm up to other equally important concerns. We found candidates who had raised their voice for trans rights but did not oppose the trans bill. Similarly, there were those supported trans rights but had made homophobic remarks as well”.
While the present numbers may suggest growing support for queer rights, Anish warns of possible ‘pink-washing’, that is, ‘political strategies aimed at promoting countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant’. “We must be wary of the government’s attempts to bolstering its image by using queer rights as a justification for the removal of Article 370, for instance. Our identities are being manipulated and used”. Politicians must be consistently held accountable for their actions, particularly those that impact vulnerable communities. In this regard, both Anish and Smriti emphasize the role of academicians, policymakers, and journalists. “Queer rights is a basic issue and yet it is skirted aside in most political events and debates. In practically every meeting, you’ll find a journalist ask about taxes. So why not queer rights?” Anish contends.
With The State of the QUnion, we hope to see the further mobilization of queer rights in the nation. The initiative has already garnered buzz from leading publications such as The Hindu and the Indian Express. NCP leader Supriya Sule’s tweet is proof that politicians are taking note that the queer community is closely watching their actions. Let us hope this trend only improves with time.
So what do we expect next from Pink List India? Anish informs, discreetly, “We have a surprise for Pride month. Expect some fun collaborations on art, politics, and queerness”. We can’t wait to see what they have in store!