2018 has been a mixed bag in terms of our constitution and its laws. While same-sex relationships have finally been decriminalized thanks to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code being partially struck down, it has been bad for the Indian trans community due to the recent passing of the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill a couple of days back. It has been a long time fighting for Indian gay and lesbian relationships since the reinstating of Section 377 in 2013, and countless petitions by LGBTQ individuals, organizations, and allies against the judgement helped the archaic law to be overturned.
The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill is a huge step back. According to this bill, an Indian trans individual will be required to have an ID, with a thorough ‘screening’ process on various governmental levels that will certify whether they are trans or not (I find myself shaking my head at this), and sex reassignment surgery (SRS) will be mandatory for all trans individuals. While SRS is a costly procedure in itself, many trans and other gender non-conforming individuals have their own reasons not to undergo the surgery since it is an extremely personal, biological decision. The bill conveniently also does not say anything about creating education and job opportunities for trans Indians, but ironically, criminalizes begging for the community (it is interesting to note that the Indian constitution currently does not criminalize begging under any other law). Also, this bill also enforces that trans individuals get themselves admitted into government approved lodging and rehabilitation institutions, which may be extremely regressive, given that a lot of trans folks are forced to leave their homes in order to escape the abuse meted out to them by family and friends.
On the non-governmental front, however, things seem to be looking up for the trans community in the light of the recent governmental law changes. Godrej India Culture Lab has put out A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace, in association with the Keshav Suri Foundation, Humsafar Trust, Periferry, TWEET Foundation, and Community Business. This could ensure some amount of accountability and safety for the Indian trans people in employment at private organizations. In February, the VLCC Institute announced a free “Assistant Beauty Therapist” training course for transgender individuals at its Hyderabad branch out of which over two dozen people have already completed the course. In July, Uber Eats—the global ride-sharing company’s online food delivery subsidiary – hired India’s first transgender delivery agent in Chennai. In Kolkata, the Medica Superspecialty Hospital (part of the largest chain of hospitals in eastern India) hired two transgender operating theatre technicians on a six month internship. With such big names taking steps to integrate trans-inclusive policies in recent times, it looks like India Inc is finally waking up to the benefits of diversity and trans-inclusion.
The year has not been completely bereft of its share of homophobia as well. From a Kolkata girls’ school accusing ten of its students of ‘indulging in lesbianism’, to Kamaal R Khan making homophobic and transphobic comments on his Youtube channel, to the death of Sridevi, a desi queer icon for most of us Bollywood loving gaysis, 2018 has not been an year of complete euphoria. However, we have had our small wins compared to our small losses as well. Akkai Padmashali, transwoman and activist, officially registered her marriage with Vasudev V, earlier this year in January, making the union to be the first officially recognized trans marriage. Earlier this year, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil opened the doors of his palace for ostracized LGBTQ folks seeking home and protection. Many cities such as Jamshedpur and Bhubaneshwar had their first Pride march this year, with previous cities and editions recapping as well. Pride march attendance witnessed a massive increase post the striking down of Section 377, with many queer individuals coming out onto the streets for the first time to celebrate the verdict. Online dating for queer individuals has evolved, with the Delta app, India’s first homegrown LGBTQ dating app dropping into the market, as well as Tinder upping their game by adding 23 new categories in the self gender identification, which previously only had male and female in its options.
When it comes to our media, we just received a first look of what may possibly be the first mainstream Bollywood major release (after Fire) with a lesbian couple at its centre, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, with Sonam Kapoor playing one of the leads! From the first look of the trailer, it seems to be made with a good and seasoned cast, and what really appeals to me is that the story seems to be set in small town Punjab, which as we all are used to seeing as a hotbed for toxic masculinity and ingrained misogyny in our Bollywood films. Here’s to hoping the best for this film! We got our first look at Lihaaf, starring Tannishtha Chatterjee, the cinematic adaptation of the famous lesbian short story by Ismat Chughtai at the India Pavillion at Cannes Film Festival 2018 in May. Apart from this, we also have numerous web series streaming that showcase LGBTQ characters, one of the most recent ones being Selection Day by Netflix, which explores these themes. Priyanka Chopra starred in the Hollywood film A Kid Like Jake, which shows a young child being encouraged by their parents and teachers to explore their non-binary inclinations, among the many international releases this year.
Here’s to 10 years of Gaysi, and many more in the years to come. Here’s to hoping that 2019 has a better take on our laws, with more inclusion in Bollywood and Indian media beyond, with lesser hate crimes on gaysis. I, for one, would like to see more queer collectives grow and bloom in colleges and other institutions, seeing how the IIT queer collective, Pravriti, had such a pivotal role in the decriminalization of Section 377 this year. Now that some laws have changed, and some more need to be changed, let’s hope for sensitization towards the LGBTQ community on a grassroots level from the new year onwards.
Wishing you a very happy and gay New Year ahead!