The queer community in India has come a long way. Since the country’s first rainbow pride walk in Kolkata in 1999, most states and Union Territories now have pride parades, and we’ve all grown up as a community. Our peers have struggled their entire lives so that people like me, a Gen Z queer based in Delhi, have the power to write and express themselves on the concerns of the queer community.
There are still many queer people who may not have the privileges I have access to, and are struggling in remote areas of the country. I’m not denying that many of us still face stigma and discrimination in the metropolitan cities too. However, so many things have changed in the last 30 years for our community. These aren’t limited to legal victories like the NALSA and Section 377 verdicts of the Supreme Court of India. The big and small efforts put in by queer activists across the country on a daily basis also count, whether it’s the trans community fighting for horizontal reservations, working class queer people making their voices heard, or queer (including asexual) couples trying to live out their relationships and advocating for marriage equality. I started my graduation studies in 2015, and since then have been observing these developments. It actually makes me feel proud to see queer people succeeding in so many ways.
Uphill road that doesn’t seem to end . . .
There’ve been plenty of setbacks not only in India but also globally. The rising transphobia in the US, Europe and other parts of the world makes it harder for not only those who live there but also for South Asian trans and queer people as most of the times the West is seen as a ‘model’ by many politicians to follow. Russia has banned gender transition and changing names in documents for trans persons. The UK is forcing schools to ‘out’ trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students to their family members. The queer community in Afghanistan is facing the worse of human rights violations, and Uganda criminalised homosexuality this year.
Even in India, many state governments along with the central government have been opposing the petitions for marriage equality. Many politicians, irrespective of their political affiliation, continue to mock our community members. People still get killed or fired from their jobs for being queer.
The more I understand the issue of intersectionality, the more I see that discrimination is intersectional too. With the rise of right-wing ideologies across the political parties, as a political consultant and an asexual individual, things don’t seem bright for us in the long run. Today, several of us are in the corporate or development sector, or in academia. Yet, how many of us can access public spaces without the fear of being mocked? Can every asexual person not fear being forced into conversion therapy? Can we forget that so many queer women were vulnerable during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, and so many were married off to cisgender heterosexual men without consent?
Many queer people say that things were never better before for them, but I’ve noticed a rise in anti-LGBTIQA+ sentiment in popular culture and society at large. Both medical practitioners and spiritual gurus have done enough damage by spreading misinformation about us for their own profits. When I entered political consulting, I noticed a lack of queer representation in the political parties. There are many queer people qualified enough, but they haven’t been hired because they are out about being queer. As a result, there are only a few candidates from the queer community who get to contest an election.
The ideological battleground that the queer community itself has become – riddled with class hatred, religious intolerance, casteism and misogyny – shows that we lack unity. This has allowed our detractors to oppress us further. This is no surprise though, because we are all the product of the same society that has normalised these social evils.
Hoping against hope . . .
Despite everything, I’m hopeful about the upcoming 10 years. Our community is resilient and deeply engaged in the resistance against oppression. In 10 years from now, we may yet be able to have better queer representation at the government level. We may yet succeed in pushing gender and sexuality education at the school level, and gain horizontal reservation for the trans community in the spheres of education and employment.
I believe that the process of queer inclusion will be gradual but it can’t be stopped or reversed. Many civil society organisations are working to strengthen the queer community through awareness generation; access to education, livelihood, and shelter; and addressing sexual and mental health concerns. As we move forward, there will be resistance from the society, but we have to overcome these obstacles united as a community.
From the perspective of an asexual person
The future will be queer – along with greater asexual representation. However, the road for asexual community is a long, often isolated one. There are many asexual activists from India like Raj Saxena, Pragati Singh and the author of this article, as well as activists from other countries who are doing a lot of work internationally on asexuality. Currently, Yasmin Benoit is facing trolling in the UK for talking about asexuality, something that Sana from Pakistan has been facing for years. Since the founding of Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) by David Jay in 2001, the asexual community has come a long way globally and in India. Yet, there are several challenges to be overcome.
By far, lack of awareness in society about asexuality remains the biggest concern. This often leads to family violence, forced marriage and conversation therapy. The law itself is blind to the possibility of asexuality, and marriage and divorce laws are insensitive to asexual people. It is also notable that most of the asexual activism in India is limited to the upper classes and upper castes. If the challenges have to be addressed meaningfully, we must be accessible, speak local languages, reach out to people across sections, and hold more public offices.
Sadly, many older queer activists also do not understand asexuality. They deny that asexuality is a part of the queer umbrella, leading to further isolation. This may or may not be a generation gap, but it surely is a gap in understanding. Many older asexual people have had to remain in the closet for their safety in a patriarchal society. In the next 10 years, I hope the gap in understanding will be bridged, and there will be more asexual people able to express themselves freely.
I’m aware that life isn’t going to be a bed of roses for queer people, but it needn’t be a bed of thorns either.
Read article Getting to Know the Asexuality Spectrum by the author in the September 2021 issue of Varta here – Editor.
Ace Week: The last full week of October every year is observed as asexuality awareness week. Read more about it here – Editor.
About the main photo: The author at a sea beach during sunrise in Odisha. Photo courtesy Meghna Mehra