After the decriminalisation of Section 377 in 2018 by the Supreme court of India, the nation has seen many progressive decisions in terms of gay rights – but there’s so much work still to be done.
On December 5th, 2020, Parliamentarian, Dr. Shashi Tharoor spoke with author and festival director, Sharif Rangnekar, at Digital & One by Rainbow Lit Fest and addressed the complications endured by queer individuals when opting for a candidature in parliament. The only option for the queer community is not politicians, or the legislature—they have to move the courts. That might be the only way forward for a better, inclusive, India.
There are various reasons why queer and trans people from every state should get seats in elections. Most people think that LGBTQ+ people are incapable of doing anything. If they walk into a police station today, justice is hard to come by. Rights are also often denied to them and safety is a serious issue for these people. The kind of reality that queer people live with, needing a strong, political voice will help gain momentum on the queer rights movement India.
“People will know of their troubles. Standing for the changes and rights that LGBTQ+ individuals seek would be easier from within the corporation council. The way a trans person lives is marked differently from another person.” Campaigning as a trans or a queer person would also be a way to make people aware of their issues and change public perception. Dr. Shashi Tharoor insisted that we need more influencers from the community to create role models for the gay community, along with a greater queer presence in politics. However, the gay cause he said isn’t going to be enough to win elections. Queer candidates if they do stand will have to stand for many other things.
On the focus of next steps after reading down of 377, he said, “Anti discrimination should be the bedrock of the movement”, given that he is a human rights person, I think that was fair and he doesn’t shy away from the question of marriage. But says, “marriage may not be the right way to go if we are to go and ask for equal rights.” The community does need a political voice and not the people who take forth their stories. Like many minorities are in a way represented.
Like Dalit, Muslim, Christian leaders, women leaders and others, ‘Is there really a space for queer leaders?’, asked Sharif Rangnekar.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor further added that the route that we have to take has to be very calibrated to the political realities of India. Number one, we have a parliamentary system, which means parties are very important. “It’s the parties that win the seats, not the individual,”; secondly, there is no proportion of representation. Let’s say a queer platform might get 10% of the votes across India in a proportional representation that would give them a voice in parliament. But getting 10% anywhere in any constituency in India would not get them seats.
The problem is exclusively gay platforms run the risk of never actually translating into a parliamentary voice. So, my suggestion would’ve have been for the gay community to pursue its politics through pressure groups rather than through a political party. In other words, individual members can join individual parties depending on their other ideologies or orientation but the gay pressure groups would pressure candidates in all parties saying we and our voters will support whoever endorsed our manifesto list and that means that they would come up with certain points.
A checklist of let’s say four or five things they want government to do and let’s say there are five candidates; BJP, Congress, Samajwadi, etc. They would say to them “any of you that’s willing to support our points will get our support, we’ll campaign amongst our members and amongst the gay community for you.” Conversely, if you reject our suggestion—we will urge our members not to vote for you. Now, it’s your choice. We may only be 10% but can you afford to give up 10% of your voters? That I think will be in our system will be a more effective tactic in my personal view.
Then queer folks can try to start their own political movement, having said that; the Congress party has been quite welcoming. I think there was a ceremony somewhere in Maharashtra, a few months ago in which a number of queer and transgender people joined the Congress party.
The Congress party has historically been open to alternative ideas and individuals and I think that if you find that you have a comfortable home there why not come in. I would only urge that as in western democracies, that queer people do not allow themselves to be confined only to the agenda of homosexual rights. I strongly feel that a gay person would command more political support if he or she were also an expert on say public health, environmental issues, foreign policies, security, whatever it may be. This is what I see as a commonsense advice with fully respecting queer people’s own rights to take it the way they want to take it.
In 2020, the United States witnessed a ‘Rainbow wave’ of LGBTQ candidates in the US election. More LGBTQ candidates ran for office in the United States in 2020 than ever before – at least 1,006. That’s a 41% increase over the 2018 midterms, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. These individuals not only ran but also won, and the streets of New York and many others were bombarded with pride flags and celebrations soon after the victory. However, the bitter reality is that queer folks continue to face complications.
Delaware state Senator-elect Sarah McBride shared an exchange recently from her DMs that asked, “I am confused, are you a boy or a girl?” McBride, a Democrat whose recent election victory means she’s set to become the highest ranking transgender official in U.S. history, clarified: “I’m a senator.”
An estimated 5% of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, just 0.17% of elected officials across all levels of the American government are LGBTQ. There are no official demographics for the LGBT population in India, but the government of India submitted figures to the Supreme Court in 2012, according to which, there were about 2.5 million gay people recorded in India. “Our society even today continues to oppress LGBTQ+ people, which diminishes their potential. Even though queer people have proven themselves time and time again—their struggles continue and that makes me wonder, “If there ever will be a ‘Rainbow wave’ LGBTQ+ candidates in India?””
I feel that the queer community have been largely ostracised. It has become incredibly important for queer people to have their own leaders on the top because the assumption is that if you have your kind of people then your cause will be prioritised, according to equal-rights activist, Harish Iyer. “He also thinks that gender and sexuality should be put on the mainstream and that will be possible only when the queer community will have somebody who has a lived experience of these issues.” The number of people who have actually come out in politics or who were rather out and joined politics are very few. Though the laws have been upgraded in this country, our society’s mindset is still parochial. Some sections of it are still stuck to Victorian morality.
Harish further says that leaders need to be educated; leaders educated about this specific cause, not education in general. Leaders are changing because the demographic of India is changing & with it—the youth being the largest demographic, leaders are also changing. “What we currently need is a strong anti-discrimination law.” He does see a rainbow wave happening in near future, however, the trials and tribulations he says, would be that queer people would be divided along party lines which is both positive and negative because queer people are not a monolith. They come in all diverse forms, and thoughts and party affiliations. That is both an asset and a liability.
The future of India is a more vibrant, diverse, India. A queer India where there are different voices, and every voice is unique.
The potential of queer people is still oppressed in Indian society, and seeks to show their new reality, shocking as it is, has been for a majority of people. There is a vibrant hope for a ‘Rainbow wave’ of LGBTQ+ political candidates in India.