The fact that Section 377 of the IPC has been partially repealed has nothing to do with the fact that the ruling party has changed its ways. In fact, the BJP only seems to go further in the same direction it has been going since day one when it comes to human rights: downhill. While lesbian and gay sex is no longer a criminalized act, it did not take the ruling party much time to deal a blow to the Indian trans community, by hurriedly passing the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill with 27 really problematic amendments in one of their December 2018 Lok Sabha sessions.
On November 27th 2018, Chandramukhi Muvvala, the only transgender candidate from Telangana, went missing for 36 hours prior to the state elections, having last been seen at her residence. 36 hours later, Muvvala alleged that she was threatened, held at knife-point, and drugged. But unlike other electoral candidates who were threatened in a similar manner, Muvvala chose not to withdraw her candidature and instead, moved the Hyderabad High Court with a habeas corpus petition. Hima Bindu, the state convener of the Bahujan Left Front, and Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) were among the politicians who stood with Muvvala during this ordeal, and condemned the attack. For the 2,739 electors from the transgender community in Hyderabad district, Muvvala is almost an icon.
The partially scrapping of Section 377 has been a long time coming, and unfortunately, due to this, the general homophobic, misogynistic and patriarchal mindset that most cis-het Indians have had for centuries, has not changed much. Personally, Muvvala’s decision to go through with the elections in her state is an act of tremendous courage, considering the Indian transgender community has violence and prejudice meted out to them on an almost daily basis. There are no LGBQ candidates even now, and as a gay woman who has all but lost hope in the politicians of this country, I can understand why. Being out and politically loud, not just for yourself but for the community, can be such a huge risk to one’s personal safety, even in a post 377 era. Given that most of the political leaders in this country have huge criminal records in their names, using somebody’s sexuality or gender identity might just be an option for most of them in the race to electoral power. Something like this not only has happened multiple instances in real life, with leaders like Muvvala, but has even been depicted in films like Rajneeti (2010). This is precisely why allies are so important.
In 2009, when the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 and recognized sexual relations between consenting adults of all genders, the Congress led coalition government could not bring forth a unified response on the same. The then home minister P. Chidambaram and the law minister Veerappa Moily applauded the judgement, calling it a progressive move, but there were also some politicians from the same coalition, the most notable being Ghulam Nabi Azad, who outrightly called homosexuality a disease. Shashi Tharoor has perhaps been the only Indian politician who has consistently been an outspoken supporter of the Indian LGBTQ community, but even then, his attempts to pass bills regarding to the matter in the Lok Sabha have often been met with jeers and homophobic remarks. The Indian National Congress has always had a divided voice on LGBTQ rights in India, which does not come as a huge relief. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi both declared their support for the community in the elections following the 2013 re-criminalization of homosexuality by the Supreme Court, but that did nothing to even faze the upcoming elections, and the Bhartiya Janta Party was eventually voted to power. While the Congress party has always been more liberal with its politics, its politicians are just as maligned when it comes to their individual track records, so it is not the greatest of wins for the LGBTQ community even if the Congress is elected to power.
The United States has been suffering under the grip of straight, white and chauvinistic men privilege, and with the current political regime, India is under the horrible aegis of middle aged to old, balding, Hindu, painfully patriarchal, right-wing, RSS loving men who do not give the slightest shit about anyone else other than themselves. The BJP is chock-a-block with such voices, who provoke communal and regional tensions on the daily, with leaders such as Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath, Ram Madhav and many more openly denouncing last year’s repeal of Section 377. Nothing that the BJP states right now can undo the damage that they have done, considering that it was one of the few governments that voted against equal spousal benefits for same-sex couples in the United Nations recently.
While many Indians, and the LGBTQ community definitely dread the return of the BJP in the upcoming elections, which seems like the most probable outcome at this point in time, it is worth noting that it is perhaps the one party which does not promise any policy changes for the LGBTQ community were it to return. It is also probably the only party which has not given a candidacy ticket to any transgender individual. Not surprising when its leaders have hurled homophobic and transphobic slurs at opposition party leaders. Personally, I cannot take any BJP supporter seriously. If you really feel inspired by the whole chowkidar act, please take a look at your housing society’s security guard and see how none of this has made even an iota of impact on their lives. It is an incredible new level of vile and low that the BJP has reached with this campaign, by using somebody else’s vocation and socio-economic class for furthering their own political campaign, while the actual people’s status remains unchanged, for better or for worse.
The Congress recently appointed transgender politician Apsara Reddy as the national general secretary of All India Mahila Congress. Their manifesto for this year’s elections promises to withdraw the Transgender Persons bill and replace it with one in accordance to the judgment in NALSA case and in consultation with LGBTQIA+ community. They have also promised direct mandatory gender sensitivity training, with context to the LGBTQ diaspora, in all governmental level organizations, including the armed forces and the police. This is a particularly welcome move, since Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat recently stated that the “army is conservative” and LGBTQ people have no place in it, despite the fact that the Supreme Court holds a much higher legislative power than the Indian Armed Forces. With over 15 lakh individuals currently employed in the Armed Forces, this stance could prove detrimental like the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the United States, which stayed in effect for almost two decades.
The CPI(M) party has come up with a more comprehensive manifesto on LGBTQ rights, which has incorporated the entirety of what the Congress has promised, with the additions of reservations in educational and employment avenues, ensuring crimes against LGBT persons are treated on par with crimes against non-LGBT persons, countering measures against homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools, with instating safe and inclusive washrooms for trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals. The CPI(M) manifesto is also perhaps the only one which actually proposes a further dialogue with the legislation for the legal recognition of same sex partnerships and/or civil unions so that same-sex couples can be offered the same financial security as a heterosexual married couple. While this manifesto is the most ideal for the community, it is highly unlikely that the CPI(M) government is elected to power, and in the likelihood it does, it will be a coalition that may or may not compromise on these promises.
Some days back, the Election Commission of India appointed Maharashtra’s transgender activist Gauri Sawant as one of the 12 election ambassadors for this year. Seems like a small victory compared to how the Election Commission has been completely mum about the recent spate of blatant political propaganda films such as The Accidental Prime Minister, PM Narendra Modi, My Name Is RaGa, and even the webseries Modi – Journey of a Common Man; but it is a victory nonetheless. It would also help if our mainstream Bollywood actors and directors, who have so much sway over this country, do not take selfies with the ruling party members, but then there are also small victories in the fact that more than a 100 independent filmmakers have boycotted the BJP because of its appalling record on human rights and extremist Hindu views, and that more than 600 theatre artists have urged people not to vote for the BJP as well for the same reasons. Voting is a civil responsibility that we must all fulfil, even if it may seem futile in the larger scheme of things. Even the smallest of victories count a lot, and if the recent judgement on Section 377 has taught us anything, it is to hope. The road to elections is undeniably dreary and bleak, but we must exercise our power and privilege to help ourselves and others who are less fortunate than us. One step at a time.