Just behind or left behind by the queer movement in India?

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In their dance of privileges and ignorance, Savarna Hindu queers benefit from, and hence have supported, the capitalist structures that have violated other marginalized communities.

 

India is a casteist society, and class has been a product of this caste division. Given the dominance of Savarna (Upper caste) scholarship, voices, and access to resources, caste issues have deliberately been erased from the questions of identity and politics in movements (apart from the Dalit movement, of course). The queer movement in India hence followed the same system of dominance and kept excluding the marginalized from the movement – very consequential but unfortunately true argument. In this article, I will try to trace the contemporary debates within the queer movement in India in the last decade. As an Indian queer individual influenced by gender, sex, sexuality, orientation, caste, tribe, class, disability, along with access to resources, education, urban-rural divide, religion, region, and militarized zones, etc., I attempt to locate the debate of savarna-cis/gay-patriarchal dominance in the Indian queer movement. Also, I ascertain that most of the arguments can be ‘presentist’ and by no means argue that the margins have not existed before this. We need to see the analysis while also acknowledging the epistemic violence against the marginalized and deliberate efforts to silence them.

 

Question of caste within queerness, desires, and intimacy

Caste is understood as a Dalit/Bahujan issue in academia, movements, and everyday lives.  In the same fashion, ‘queer’ within the movement has been either assumed or considered casteless. Only recently have we witnessed the intersectional identity of a person who is both queer and Dalit asserting their positions, rights, and voices in the queer movement. Tracing the question of caste in the queer movement, the pride month of 2015 noticed solidarity in Chennai pride walk followed by Bangalore and Delhi in November. Dalit/queers rose to the stage at the Delhi queer pride and highlighted the issues of humiliation, atrocities, and caste. The courage and power of the voices of Dalit/queer advanced a substantial conversation about caste across the Indian queer movement. Dhiren Borsia says that “caste is everywhere, caste is the desire”; this is the point where caste becomes not an only Dalit issue but of everyone. The erasure of the caste question from the queer movement has led to enforcing endogamy within same-sex marriage. The so-called desired body within the dating culture among queers is considered to be an upper-caste. Many Dalit queer people have shared their experiences of abuse and violence on dating, online support group, and parties. Dalit queer body is called “dirty, polluted, ugly, and illiterate”. “Hey, what do you actually intend by saying you’re a Reddy?” “I’m a Reddy, I’m an upper caste, I’m more desirable than anybody else.” The quotation here reeks of pride, arrogance, and hierarchy of intimacy, politics, and sexuality. The prejudice, stereotype, and caste atrocities have become a double burden for Dalit/queer individuals to deal with it.  In one of her speeches, Grace Banu, a Dalit trans activist, mentioned that even among the trans people, Dalit trans are at the lowest.

 

Coming out with Savarna-Gay power

Someone who is aware of current political scenario in India would know about the recent amendments of CAA and NRC, the violence within university spaces, and the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.  It has been a hostile roller coaster ride for political activists, human rights defenders, and persons belonging to margins. The state has continuously used the sedition law in most of the cases against the protestors. At the beginning of 2020, Queer Azaadi March (QAM), a collective who organizes the queer pride march in Mumbai, became the point of discussion. Fifty-one young queer individuals were booked with sedition charges for sloganeering against the arrest of another student activist.  It is one of those events that explicitly showed the naked dominance, abuse, and violence of the Savarna-cis-gay people towards others within the queer community. Given the political scenario of the country at the time, local police did not permit the pride march. However, they allowed it later with the clause of keeping the issues limited to ‘LGBTQ.’ Young queer activists (I emphasize ‘queer’ given the history of the march) joined the movement and raised their voices to stand in solidarity with trans, Muslims, and other marginalized queers. The digital world found a Tweet by upper caste, ‘gay’ rights activists to invite and support the state to intervene ‘ignoring the issue.’ They ‘helped’ the state identify the young queer folks who raised their political voices. In the process, the ‘activists’ misgendered the queer folks and used sexist and misogynist language. The event raises important questions around the inclusion of ‘queer’ and other marginalized communities in the movement, which includes HIV/AIDS, queer feminism, gay rights, trans and intersex rights but is clearly dominated by upper caste cis ‘gay’ discourse.

 

Transpersons, violence, and politics

Non-conforming, cross-dressing, gender-queer, and trans-persons have been the first victims of violence, abuse and shame. They have led the pride march at the forefront as they have queer(ed) roads, daily lives, and politics. Visibly queer does not only color the lives of others with queerness but live with the radical potential of queer. Trans persons not only face transphobia and negativity from non-queer people but also the within the queer community. In the Indian queer movement, trans-men, transmasculine, and gender-queer (female assigned at birth) persons have been silenced. Their bodies, mind, and psyche have been violated and they continue to face abuse from families, cis-hetero patriarchal society, and in queer movement by elite Brahmanical cis-homo ideologies. While the queer community and wider society have embraced the drag-queens and performances by trans women, the critical discourse of masculinities, female masculinities, trans-masculinities have remained missing.

No fats, No femme, No CD (cross dressers) and Transgender allowed”: Dating apps and ‘gay’ scenes are inundated with such ‘preferences’. Forgetting the history of marches, Pune pride witnessed the policing of Trans and non-confirming bodies by suggesting them to dress ‘decent’ (the decent is cis, do not forget). In the recent Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 debate, A Revathi, a trans activist, said: “How can a third person decide my identity or my gender? Who else will know who I am? My gender is my right. Is it not well within my right to decide if I am a man, woman, transman, or a transwoman? Can anyone deny that the Supreme Court has reiterated this right of ours?” It has been indeed a violation of bodies. However, the question is the lack of support and solidarity from queer folks for trans persons in this struggle.  Cis-queer folks continue to perpetuate ignorance and hesitate to join protests and mobilize to support trans persons.

 

Ableist sexuality framework

Unfortunately, the discourse about disability starts with accessibility. Accessibility of course has been at the front of the disability movement and its push, resilience, and advocacy to create change. However, the issue of accessibility did not strike within the queer movement until a person with disabilities attended pride and faced issues.  Shivangi Agarwal, a disability and queer activist, shared that she had to be physically lifted to the stage as it was inaccessible for her. Queer persons with disabilities have raised concerns with the movement’s particular focus on queer pride marches and how abliest mindsets leave them behind. Within the disability paradigm, the voices of persons with psychosocial disabilities have not emerged strongly as yet. Queers with psychosocial disabilities have raised their concerns. Still, these concerns had to be raised by us and did not become an important issue for the able-bodied cis activists. Persons with disability are particularly excluded around issues of ‘sexuality.’ Queer is about sexuality (and so much more), but queer persons with disabilities receive silence and abusive comments about desirability, sexuality, and bodies. We are forcibly asked to fit in the ableist- sexuality framework and are told that there is something wrong with us.

 

Lesbian, women sexuality, and queerness

“The gay rights movement had been gaining momentum, but the voices of women were unheard. It made lesbian women realise there were others like them,” Chaynika shah, a queer feminist activist deliberates on the ‘othering’ of the queer women in Indian queer movement. History for lesbian, bisexual, and trans-masculine persons looks different in the movement. I argue that before the HIV movement, the homosexuality debate occurred in the women’s movement in the 1980s. The HIV movement and gay rights activists have attempted to curate a new history for the movement by erasing the struggle of non-conforming and queer women. The violence on queer women is on multiple levels; being a woman, being a queer, and being queer women in women and queer movements. A recent study highlights that LBT people faces natal families’ violence, including corrective rape by professional and family members for compulsory heterosexuality. LBT individuals have reported multiple levels of abuse and death by suicides. LBT person’s voice has been strategically silenced in the last five years. They have faced harassment in queer spaces, but their need for a separate space has been criticized by gay activists as divisive. This further reveals the patriarchal and supremacist attitude of the upper caste, cis gay community.

 

Urban-centric movement?

The queer movement in India has predominantly remained urban and city-centric. The diversity of language and problems of access to education, employment, and social support are apparent challenges. A participantin the study shared that “We don’t know what 377 is and what difference would that make it to our lives? Does it offer security to us or some form of employment?” It may be shocking for some to read the statement of how someone cannot know about the 377, but we stand with a urban-rural divide in India. Rural queer folks deal with the violence of identities, financial securities, basic needs, and access. This may not be the case with urban queer folks. The so-called tokenistic inclusion of rural MSM has been in HIV programs, but other queer identities have been left behind. Multiple marginalizations are faced by queer womxn/trans mencoming to urban spaces and having to start new. But not all queer folks can migrate, and they have been left out of access to the movement and resources.

 

Of Muslim, of state, and of religion

In their dance of privileges and ignorance, Savarna Hindu queers benefit from, and hence have supported, the capitalist structures that have violated other marginalized communities. In contemporary times, isolated gay rights politics is in the spotlight. Another recent issue in the movement has been Muslim queer politics. A participant in a video shares that as a Muslim queer, one faces Islamophobia and homophobia. Muslim queer folks are discriminated against on multiple levels within and outside the community. Prejudice and stigma of being queer in the hetero-normative world are the same as being a Muslim queer in queer circles. Religion and faith-based questions and policing have a shared history of violence towards queer folks. However, in the Indian queer movement, the matter is still explicitly mixed with Islam. There has been hesitation and ignorance among queer circles to talk about Muslim/queer identities.  Elite-educated gay and Savarna queer folks celebrated abrogation of Article 370, releasing statements with the false hope of positive impact without engaging with Kashmiri queers. Queer community living in Kashmir suffers from state inflicted violence, social exclusion, and access. Urban-Savarna queer deliberately erase and violate their struggle, voices, and conflicts.

Spaces for solidarities and comfort

Intersectionality’s introduction by Kimberlé Crenshaw has its wave of influence in India. Academic and epistemic violence erased the realities at the margins. Savarna scholarships have reduced the struggle to mere data and research findings. In that scenario it is the other movements, especially women rights, that have provided space to raise critical inquiries. Chinju, a Dalit and trans activist from Kerala, shared that he learned about the term ‘intersex’ in a workshop on gender and sexuality organized by a Dalit feminist group. To be noted, intersex persons, just like LBT persons, have found their voices within the queer feminist spaces, whereas cis-gay rights spaces have all but ignored and silenced them. The conversation of non-binary queers, drag-kings, trans-masculinities, Kashmiri Muslim queers, and intersectional queer identities are left out and left behind in the segregated ‘queer’ movement led by the upper caste, cis, gay activists.

 

 

Dalit/non-binary queer Neeraj Kumar is the founder of ‘The Unsound Project’. They are queer affirmative counseling practitioner, psychotherapist, and social worker. Their research and practice area include gender, sexuality, disability, queer, Dalit/Bahujan, mental health, and feminism. Currently, they are Mphil scholar with the School of Human Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi and associated with Nazariya-Queer feminist resource group as a consultant counselor.

 

 

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