Thousands of LGBTQ people swung from hope to despair within 24 hours as media reported law minister Sadananda Gowda saying the government may scrap the draconian section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, only for the minister to firmly shut the door on queer liberation.
Hours after Gowda’s comments went viral on social media, the minister scrambled to tell news agencies he had been misquoted and was merely speaking on the recent US Supreme Court verdict legalizing same-sex marriage.
Shortly thereafter, he was bolstered by party colleague and senior leader Subramaniam Swamy who said the BJP’s position was that homosexuality was a genetic disorder. Swamy may have generously offered an explanation later – that he respected disabled people but “homos” suffered from a genetic disorder – but the damage was done.
The impact of the vitriol was being felt even a day later on Wednesday, as frustrated queer people took to Twitter and Facebook, hoping to elicit a reaction from the government on why it was against their fundamental rights. The otherwise-vocal Opposition also presumably found no objection in the assertions.
The remarks and the ensuing storm of criticism on Twitter and Facebook revealed a pattern that has been common within the ruling coalition in the past few months – a thinking and ideological baggage that is at odds with the party and its leaders’ avowedly modern development agenda.
From Sadhvi Prachi’s exhortation to Hindu women to have four babies and Sakshi Maharaj’s warnings to religious minorities, the BJP’s vision of modern India seems distinctly dichotomous – towering smart cities across the country inhabited by conservative majorities who muzzle individual expression and any freedom exercised by others is quickly dismissed as minority appeasement.
Time and again, the BJP has been shown to have a trust deficit with minorities of various hues – Muslims, Dalits, LGBTQ people – but more importantly, its attempts at bridging the gap have been constantly undermined by others within the party. Statements by Mumbai’s BJP chief Ashish Shelar on backing the community or by Shaina NC in support of the struggle against section 377 have been always followed up with ridiculously homophobic comments by the likes of Ramdev and home minister Rajnath Singh.
But in the process of pandering to its conservative base, the BJP is risking losing its young voters, many of whom voted enthusiastically for the party in the last elections on a promise of clean governance and faster economic growth – not hardline religious agenda. People wanted jobs, not top leaders asking for women to produce more children to counter an imaginary Muslim charge.
Many of us voted for the BJP in the last election thinking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development propaganda would magically wipe out decades of hate speech and agenda of violence by the party and create a new class of moderate middle-line politicians.
Modi’s studied silence has seen that dream go up in smoke. But it has also given rise to the realization that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The BJP’s conservative agenda is here to stay and many young people are increasingly uneasy with a party that doesn’t speak their mind.
LGBT people in India are often subject to unmentionable violence and harassment, with social behaviour that strips them of their basic dignity. And the youth isn’t comfortable with a government that see-saws on a basic human rights question and snoops into their bedrooms to uphold an arbitrary cultural standard.
It may come as a surprise to the BJP, but the youth care about issues – the recent campaign on net neutrality or the kiss of love campaigns for example – and their votes cannot be bought by vitriolic rhetoric against minorities. LGBTQ issues have gained acceptance across the world at a breakneck pace, and India isn’t far behind – the shower of rainbows on Facebook standing witness to how quickly urban India has welcomed their queer peers. The sooner the BJP realizes this, the better.