The Mumbai Pride 2020 Solidarity Gathering held earlier this year created a deep schism within the queer movement. For those unfamiliar with the development, several individuals were accused of raising ‘anti-national’ slogans protesting the government’s CAA-NRC decision. Fifty-one were eventually booked for sedition and the Pride organizers swiftly distanced themselves from the whole affair. Meanwhile, a fiery debate ensued on social media platforms. One side praised the action of protestors, asserting the queer movement had to be political and intersectional. The other questioned why the queer movement was moving away from its ‘primary goals’, such as equal rights to partnership, benefits, etc.? Wasn’t it supposed to be all about #loveislove? With the heartsies and rainbows and the shot of two ripped men making out like in those pictures on the web?
As queer individuals in a homophobic and transphobic society, we are always striving to integrate into the very systems that have marginalized our identities. In doing so, we are tempted to adopt a conciliatory, pro-establishment approach. A perfect example of this is Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the present Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of the Kinnar Akhara. Lakshmi has leveraged on the popular demi-goddess connotations of transgender identities for gaining social capital. Moreover, her favorable response towards the construction of Ram temple is likely to put her in the good books of the establishment. Besides Lakshmi, there are several others, both within and outside the queer community, whose pro-establishment sentiments have worked in their favor. Take Kangana Ranaut, no doubt a terrific actor and an underdog who blazed through the largely dynastic echelons of Bollywood. What has made her even more among the majority are the jingoistic sentiments she has made in several interviews. On the other hand, Deepika Padukone became the public enemy when she showed up at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in solidarity with students who were attacked allegedly by right-wing outfits. Padukone’s recently released movie Chhapaak was boycotted by many and brands (spineless and opportunistic, as usual) reduced ads featuring her. It became evident that anti-establishment attitudes would be met with hostility, even leading to accusations of being ‘anti-national’.
So where do we as the queer community members stand in the picture? The last two years have been a mixed back of highs and lows. In 2018, we rejoiced when the Supreme Court struck down Article 377. At that time, while political parties such as Congress and AAP (opportunistically) chorused in support, the ruling party largely remained silent. The other significant development was the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 which was passed in the Parliament despite vigorous protest from the community. The Government has banned commercial surrogacy for queer couples and replied in the negative on plans to legalize gay marriage. Despite its lackluster support towards the queer community, some members (incorrectly) attribute the few positive developments to the ruling establishment. Some are even under the spell of the Hindutva one-nation agenda, threatening to report anti-CAA and NRC/Ram Mandir/ Article 370 protestors.
We are thus living in times when community members are policing one other into becoming adarsh queers. The adarsh queers blindly pledge their allegiance with the regime. They value national pride over everything else and are ready to take lives if the need arises. They become ‘apolitical’ at queer pride, not wishing trouble upon themselves that’ll run their post-Pride party plans. They believe in a singular agenda for the entire queer movement and dismiss the diversity of voices within it, echoing the sentiments of ‘One Nation, One Language’. Becoming an adarsh queer may guarantee you immunity and impunity from marginalization (however illusory). On the other hand, dissenting only raises the risk of abuse, violence, and the current favorite – sedition. Some fear that politicizing mainstream queer spaces may hamper the visibility afforded by the community. Permits for queer events may be revoked. Brands might dial down on their queer-centric initiatives. Community members may stop showing up in solidarity. Isn’t it unfortunate that our fundamental rights to express our opinions is facing such threatening repercussions?
The queer community cannot afford to keep silent on the human rights violations that the country witnesses today. Silence indicates complicity. When we sit on the fence, we give the dominant forces the power to snatch our rights at will. We cannot let that happen – not to us, not to anybody else, regardless of whether they are queer or not. As the late Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. With the nation witnessing a wave of hatred, bigotry, and violence that seeps into our lives and poisons our minds, we need to move beyond the comfortable and embrace the critical. Let us not become adarsh queers who merely parrot the regime and allow autocracy to trample over the spirit of democracy. The rainbow hues of Pride must seep in with more strength, more color, more voices, and more resistance to create a fairer and more egalitarian society for all.