To imagine what things may be like a decade from now from the perspective of a queer person with a disability, I have to go back to 2013. December 11, 2013 was the date on which all kinds of sexual behaviours other than penile-vaginal intercourse were recriminalized. The Supreme Court of India had overruled the Delhi High Court verdict of 2009 that had read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
The mnemonic quality of the date 11.12.13 is indeed remarkable. It was a sad day for the LGBTIQA+ communities in our country. Many queer activists received phone calls from journalists. Many of those who’d come out of the closet since 2009 were in a fix. The clock had been turned back and a pervasive feeling of gloom and anxiety continued for months.
The day after the Supreme Court verdict, as I was going to my place of work, newspaper headlines screamed “Samakamita abar oporadh!” (Homosexuality is a crime again). A few days later, some female colleagues were teasing a male colleague with a tongue-in-cheek allegation that he was a womanizer. He’d been spotted at different places with female companions. When the man protested that he wasn’t like that, one of the women retorted, “That means you do that which has now become illegal.”
Around the same time, there were three incidents that I faced as a person with a disability. One afternoon, as I was going to a pharmacy in a suburban area of Kolkata, I heard a man in a furniture shop tell someone, “Dekh! Chal nahin sakta.” (Look! He can’t walk). As if a person who can’t walk is a sight to see. Strangely, when I went there again after a few months, the same man talked with me in a friendly manner.
Another day, as I was alighting from a car at the Dakshinapan Shopping Complex in South Kolkata, three boys looked at me and one of them said, “Langda!” (A lame man). However, the worst experience I had was in a local train. A man got down from the train and threw water at me from the window. This reminded me of a scene I’d witnessed at the Alipore Zoo. A well-dressed man, standing in front of the cage of a white tiger with his wife and son, took a water bottle from his wife and threw water on the caged animal. Just for laughs. Since these incidents, I’ve avoided travelling alone.
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In my experience, some things change and some seem to remain constant. Homophobia and transphobia are still rampant, but there has been progress. We can see a grudging acceptance of gender and sexual diversity among some of the educated people. The mainstream media has been sensitized to a certain extent. There are attempts to make public utility services accessible to persons with disabilities. Earlier, we used to hear that these were available only in the developed countries.
On the other hand, there was the recent assault of an autistic young man in a public place in the Chetla area of Kolkata by three youth, all below 18. The problem lies not just in the actions of the youth, but also in the social environment that abets such actions. Parents, teachers, journalists, passersby on the streets, everyone has a responsibility.
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In such a scenario, what change does one dare hope for in the future?
By 2033, we may have gained legal recognition of queer marriages. This may lead to greater stability in queer relationships. At present, we see frequent break-ups of queer couples and partner changes. The mental health consequences of such unstable relationships, in my opinion, may be irreparable. With legal sanction and social acceptance, the situation will improve considerably.
We may have ‘new’ challenges to deal with like hostility and discrimination faced by children of queer couples in schools and in society. On a more positive note, all political parties may find it necessary to have ‘LGBTIQA+ cells’. Homosexuality will be decriminalized in more countries.
We may also expect to find more wheelchair-accessible buildings, shopping malls, and amusement parks; more widespread use of Braille; more people around us communicating in sign language; more persons with disabilities working and earning with their heads held high; and fewer persons with disabilities compelled to beg for their living.
Somewhere amid all these positives, I also expect queer people with disabilities to be more visible, do well in life, and not be silenced in both queer and disability communities.
Homophobic, transphobic and ableist people will still be around, but they may well be pushed to the fringes.
A decade hence we may sit down and compare the predictions made by various authors on the pages of Varta and calculate the percentage of those that have come true.