In India, while we continue to witness significant mobilisations by the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement, we have rarely seen these working closely with each other. There had been attempts to organise meetings which can bring in an intersectional perspective, such as attempts to make the pride marches disabled-friendly. But these efforts have not yet brought about a regular exchange of ideas between the two marginalised groups of the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement.
It is extremely important to understand that there are some commonalities between the groups and many differences too. Interestingly, when India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was being drafted, there were discussions within civil society groups whether to include the transgender community too within the disability ambit. I distinctly remember getting feedbacks on the same which were exactly opposite to each other. Some grassroot groups said that some trans people approached them asking to be included in disability pension schemes and we must remember these demands while drafting the new disability law.
While this was being debated in 2010 and 2011, at present , in India, we have separate laws for the communities of LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement. Though both these laws fall under ambit of Ministry of Social Empowerment and Justice, the demarcation between the both has been made quite clear.
In West Bengal and Bangladesh, the term “Jouno Pratibondhi”, meaning disability based on sex-gender identity, is occasionally used. Many gender activists are unhappy with such terms as they do not identify their gender preference as a “disability”.
One of the major established reasons as to why disability groups demanded for a new law rejecting the 1995 archaic disability law is to remove the medical model that defined disability. Though the Indian government passed a new law, even now, a disabled person needs to go through multiple levels of “medical” examinations to get any benefit from same. However, the disability movement never demanded self-identification to be considered as an option for disabled people. Though self-identification is accepted by many countries and this concept in recognised otherwise, it remained alien to Indian disability law making process.
It is interesting, that within a few years, the question of self-identity was one of the main demands of the transgender community. They fought against the regressive bill and claimed that self identity should be the criterion to decide who is a transgender person – they pressured the government to do away with the “medical” examination to prove their gender identity.
In this context, it is important that we shift the focus on to the group of people who identify as both disabled and queer and whose interests align with both the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement. It is extremely difficult to find any data by the government or NGOs on the same. One of the reasons behind the same is that most of them do not want to come out in public about their two marginalised identities.
In meetings organised to prepare the CRPD Alternate report in 2019, we met few people who explained why they did so. In the Kolkata meeting, a trans woman who is very active in various gender rights movements told us that she does not want to reveal on a public forum that she is hard of hearing, because she thinks she will be bullied if she said so. And she feels that this bullying or sidelining could happen within the queer movement too. A cis man who is visually impaired and identifies as gay echoed her concerns. He said, “Since my disability is visible, I hide my sexual identity. I feel disability groups will not accept my orientation.”
Two trans persons with disabilities from Telangana said they were hiding their gender identity because if they mention it, they will be deprived of basic facilities given by government. Both of them stay in a government hostel for adult, disabled, unemployed youth which is free – there are separate such hostels for men and women, and none for the transgenders. One of them also mentioned that once, some local police officials saw them participating in a pride march and threatened them that they will “reveal” their identities, which could cut them off all the disability benefits they were so far getting from the state.
It is important to remember here that the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 does not talk about the specific intersection of disability and trans identity. Similarly, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 also does not address this intersection of disability and gender and sexual minorities.
Taking this lack of focus on the intersection of the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement into cognizance, the UNCRPD committee made note of the same in their observations to Government of India:
“The absence of measures to combat multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against, inter alia, persons with disabilities in scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, including Dalits and Adivasi, older persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities living with HIV/AIDS, indigenous persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities belonging to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons with disabilities.”
With that, it suggested various measures to combat these gaps between the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement. Now, it is up to the Indian government to take up pro-active measures to bring in changes. More synergy between the LGBTQI+ & disability rights movement is required to pressurise the government to take important steps in that direction.