The 15th edition of the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ is planned for December 11, 2016 – exactly three years since the infamous Supreme Court of India verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code. Excerpts from a leaflet developed by the organizers of the walk shared here
It has been two years since the Honourable Supreme Court of India granted Indian citizens the right to self determination of gender – the right that every person should be able to decide their own gender identity irrespective of their bodies or genitalia. The judgment included a broad range of gender non-conforming people under the ‘transgender’ label, and stated that transgender and Hijra individuals would have the right to education, livelihood and health like any other Indian citizen (NALSA verdict, 2014). Yet, transgender people across India continue to face various forms of discrimination.
In November 2016, Tara, a 28-year-old NGO worker, was found outside a police station in Chennai with severe burns on her body, and died soon after. Tara was thirunangai, the Tamil word for trans women. Tara’s friends allege that the police had been harassing Tara. They had accused her of soliciting for sex work, confiscated her mobile phone, assaulted her and brought her in for questioning. Subsequently, she was found with burn injuries. More than a month later, there is still no answer to how she found petrol to immolate herself (as claimed by the police).
This atrocity is by no means an exception. In educational spaces, hospitals, workplaces, residential units, transgender people continue to face discrimination, physical and sexual harassment, sometimes violence leading to death. What has the State’s response been to such gross violations of human rights?
The Government of India has drafted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, which has not incorporated any of the feedback from the community and is in complete violation of the Supreme Court verdict. The Bill recommends the institution of boards comprising psychiatrists and governmental representatives who will determine whether a person can be granted a transgender certificate. This contradicts the right to gender self-determination, as promised by the Supreme Court.
Moreover, the Bill does not talk of any reservation for transgender people in education and jobs, or spell out what constitutes discrimination and violence against transgender people. It does not specify punitive consequences or mention the modes of welfare the State is obliged to deliver to transgender people.
Meanwhile, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes all forms of sexual activity except peno-vaginal penetration, is still widely used to persecute a broad range of gender or sexually non-conforming persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Kothi and Hijra people, among others. Interestingly though the ambit of the law covers all individuals practicing non peno-vaginal penetrative sex – irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a previous Delhi High Court verdict that had removed same-sex sexual activity from the purview of Section 377, and recriminalized all forms of sex other than peno-vaginal penetration. Since then, a spate of incidents of blackmail, extortion, sexual and physical assault against queer people have been reported.
Here it is important to note that India’s rape laws have been amended to include any form of non-consensual sexual activity (in other words, any consensual sexual act is not rape). So, how does consensual sex other than peno-vaginal penetration continue to be criminalized under Section 377? Aren’t our rape laws and Section 377 incompatible? Though a curative petition against Section 377 has been admitted by the Supreme Court, there has been no further development in this regard.
The central government has been openly homophobic and transphobic in its attitude towards India’s millions of queer people. When will our rights be recognized as human rights?
However, our struggle as queer people is not a standalone one. We are also implicated in, and in solidarity with, many other struggles and movements. Our queer struggle for justice rests on a vision of an anti-caste, queer feminist, non-ableist, secular world, a world without military occupation, without the suppression of dissent.
So when we walk for our rights, we also speak with the many other marginalized people’s struggles and protest movements in India that share our dream.
1) Withdraw the transphobic Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 and introduce a new Bill taking community needs into account. Honour the Supreme Court NALSA verdict.
2) Read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to exclude consensual same-sex activity from its purview.
3) Institute a thorough judicial enquiry into Tara’s murder.
Details about the ‘15th Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’:
Please note: ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ follows a ‘no organizational banners / logos / advertisements’ policy. Everyone walks with a common banner. But do bring as many creative posters and slogans on the theme of ‘law and human rights’ as you can!
Date and starting time: December 11, 2016; 2 pm onwards.
Route: From Metro Y Channel – near K. C. Das confectioners, Esplanade (starting point) till Park Circus Maidan (end point). There will be cultural performance at the starting point and a public meeting at the end point.
For more information: Write to Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Main artwork credit: Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival (artwork shows banner designed for the ‘15th Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’).