Political parties need to queer the election pitch - Hindustan Times
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Political parties need to queer the election pitch

ByDelfina Kanchana Sundar
May 26, 2024 11:01 PM IST

There is no hope for the queer community if we choose to be an isolated minority. We need to recognise that our issues are intersectional

The rainbow has been a symbol of the queer community. It is natural and beautiful, but also rare. It appears only when there is a perfect alignment of raindrops and rays of the sun. As this election comes close to conclusion, I wonder if the queer community is seen as special and beautiful like rainbows, or if it just gets lost in the torrential downpour of electoral agendas.

Attempts to introduce a comprehensive Bill to stop discrimination against the LGBTIQA+ community have failed to materialise (PTI) PREMIUM
Attempts to introduce a comprehensive Bill to stop discrimination against the LGBTIQA+ community have failed to materialise (PTI)

Traditionally, in constitutional democracies like India, the judiciary has been the ultimate protector of the rights of minorities. In the infamous Suresh Kumar Koushal (2013) judgment, some of the judges of the highest judiciary in India dismissed the queer community as a “minuscule minority” and referred Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the community, to Parliament. Parliament never took this up for debate. However, the Supreme Court (SC) did ultimately correct this injustice by admitting the curative petition to its own judgment and eventually delivering the landmark Navtej Singh Johar judgment in 2018 that affirmed the human rights of the queer community. The Court had earlier recognised the human rights of transgender persons in the watershed NALSA (2014) judgment.

The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, introduced as a private member bill by Tiruchi Siva, a Member of Parliament from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had several provisions protecting the actual needs of the community and also implemented the provision for reservations in education and employment as directed by the SC in the NALSA judgment. Although that Bill had unanimous support across political parties, the 2019 version of the Bill that was introduced by the Union government was clearly in violation of international law and the SC judgment. Among other issues, it conflated the definition of transgender and intersex identities and criminalised begging by transgender people. At the same time, it failed to include any measure to improve their access to education or employment. While the government referred this Bill to a Standing Committee and tried to address some of the issues, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and the 2020 Rules notified for the same still fail to fulfil the actual needs of the community, and the government has repeatedly ignored the critical comments from the community members, activists, and legal experts.

While the SC has affirmed the rights of those in homosexual relationships, the government is unwilling to allow marriage equality. Attempts to introduce a comprehensive Bill to stop discrimination against the LGBTIQA+ community have failed to materialise. While global surveys indicate that anywhere from 5-20% of the population of every country is likely to identify as part of the LGBTIQA+ community, we do not have any census data about the number of queer people in India.

There are obviously millions of queer people in our country, but majoritarian electoral politics has generally sidelined the community. Issues faced by the LGBTIQA+ have never been at the centre stage of the political debate. Many community members have also been indifferent to electoral politics. We had repeatedly approached the judiciary to protect our constitutional rights.

Even in the 2024 elections, some political parties have ignored any reference to LGBTQIA+ issues in their manifesto. While other political parties have made conscious efforts to be inclusive, often, they see LGBTQIA+ as special issues and don’t seem to connect them with the other issues in our society. The People’s Manifesto 2024 adopted by the Vikalp Sangam, which is made up of over 80 movements and organisations in India, is unique in that it provides a framework for intersectional advocacy.

There is no hope for the queer community if we choose to be an isolated minority. We need to recognise that our issues are intersectional. We need to rise above divisive politics of hatred and bigotry, and work together to protect the rainbow: The rights of LGBTQIA+, the diversity of our cultures and the entire ecosystem of nature. We in the LGBTQIA+ community hope that all political parties, civil society organisations, and others who are instrumental in defining the policy directions of India, will take the issues of the community seriously and make efforts at meaningful intersectional inclusion of our needs.

Delfina Kanchana Sundar is a LGBTIQA+ activist from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The views expressed are personal

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