Last Sunday, the trans* and queer (LGBTIQA+) communities of West Bengal took a significant step forward in articulating their expectations from political stakeholders.

As many as 21 LGBTIQA+ community groups, several LGBTIQA+ individuals, and their allies from across the state put in a collective effort to bring out the Bengal Trans* & Queer Charter of Demands, 2021. The charter was released at a media conference held at the Press Club Kolkata on March 27, 2021. A North Bengal launch is planned at the Siliguri Journalists’ Club on Friday, April 2, 2021.

This illustration is a combination of a small rectangular graphic drawn from the ‘Bengal Trans* & Queer Charter of Demands’ and an accompanying quote. The graphic includes a simple line drawing of the map of West Bengal accompanied with the title of the charter of demands and a line that says “A collaborative effort of 21 LGBTQI+ organizations across West Bengal”. The accompanying quote says: “Though released on the very first day of the multiple-phase West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, 2021, the charter is part of a long-term advocacy process that is not limited to specific elections. This process seeks to draw greater attention of the political parties, other political formations, different civil society movements, and the academia to the concerns of LGBTIQA+ communities.”Why the charter of demands

Though released on the very first day of the multiple-phase West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, 2021, the charter is part of a long-term advocacy process that is not limited to specific elections. This process seeks to draw greater attention of the political parties, other political formations, different civil society movements, and the academia to the concerns of LGBTIQA+ communities. For starters, representatives from all the major political parties contesting the Assembly elections were present at the Press Club Kolkata.

The aim is to prevent the relegation of LGBTIQA+ concerns to a separate box that can be conveniently overlooked. Instead, the advocacy process wants LGBTIQA+ issues to be seen as part of larger domains of education, health, livelihood, social security and so on, and in intersections with multiple marginalities. For instance, a Dalit trans man is likely to face discrimination both on account of his caste location and gender identity. Thus LGBTIQA+ concerns need to be addressed in a broader context rather than narrow silos.

There are numerous spheres where LGBTIQA+ persons face violence, whether it is the family, intimate relations, educational institutions, workplaces, healthcare services, administration or the criminal justice system. But this violence is often not recognized and addressed adequately at the policy and legal levels. The advocacy process seeks also to remove this policy vacuum.

What the charter talks about

The charter focuses on the rights, lives, livelihoods, and aspirations of LGBTIQA+ communities in West Bengal. It re-envisions the education and healthcare systems, given that they have consistently failed LGBTIQA+ people and contributed largely to their social marginalization. It advocates for an LGBTIQA+ inclusive education curricula and teacher training, along with a strictly enforced law against bullying of LGBTIQA+ persons in educational institutions. Bullying is, in fact, a major reason why so many trans* persons drop out of school or college in India.

The charter talks about numerous barriers related to accessing healthcare services, and suggests measures to address them. It emphasizes policy measures such as inclusion of gender affirmative care services under the Swasthya Sathi health insurance scheme of the West Bengal government, banning of corrective surgeries on intersex infants (unless there is a medical necessity), reforming the medical education curriculum, and introducing separate wards for trans* persons at all levels of the healthcare system. It also wants the government to ensure that LGBTIQA+ persons do not face discrimination in accessing COVID-19 vaccination.

A section on interaction with the administration includes a demand for a simple and speedy process for trans* persons to acquire identity documentation in their desired gender identity. Another section on livelihood and financial inclusion calls for horizontal reservation for trans* persons in public higher education institutions and employment, and designing social security schemes specific to the context of LGBTIQA+ persons.

Other sections in the charter look at violence and discrimination, social security, statistical inclusion, civil rights, and political participation.

Overall, the charter focuses on the deprivation of human development that LGBTIQA+ communities face because of structural biases that erase their existence or make it difficult for them to realize their full potential. For instance, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 is silent about reservations in education and employment that were promised by the Supreme Court’s NALSA verdict in 2014. The Act also puts in place a tiresome and bureaucratic procedure for trans* persons to obtain trans identity certification.

This illustration is a combination of a small rectangular graphic drawn from the ‘Bengal Trans* & Queer Charter of Demands’ and an accompanying quote. The graphic includes a simple line drawing of the map of West Bengal accompanied with the title of the charter of demands and a line that says “A collaborative effort of 21 LGBTQI+ organizations across West Bengal”. The accompanying quote says: “A section on interaction with the administration includes a demand for a simple and speedy process for trans* persons to acquire identity documentation in their desired gender identity. Another section on livelihood and financial inclusion calls for horizontal reservation for trans* persons in public higher education institutions and employment, and designing social security schemes specific to the context of LGBTIQA+ persons.”How the charter came about

The initiative to create the charter was taken by PLEQSUS INDIA FOUNDATION, a Kolkata-based non-profit organization that focuses on skills building and livelihood related research, advocacy and training for LGBTIQA+ people. PLEQSUS mobilized different LGBTIQA+ groups and individuals, and facilitated five online community consultations earlier this month (March 2021) to collate the charter. Around 150 persons participated in the consultations.

PLEQSUS has been working with different LGBTIQA+ groups and collectives in West Bengal since its inception in October 2019. It is during these conversations that the need for an alternate vision of LGBTIQA+ rights in West Bengal emerged – a rights-based development framework that creates a supportive legal and socio-economic ecosystem, centres LGBTIQA+ persons, and ensures the full development of their capabilities. The charter is an expression of this vision.

Read the full charter of demands here. For feedback on the charter, please write to cqts.pleqsus@gmail.com – Editor.

Inset: ‘Coronavirus Diary’ – queer citizen journalism in action! This monthly Varta webzine column brings you news and analysis on how queer communities, other vulnerable groups, and their allies are responding to the hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown in India. Content published under ‘Coronavirus Diary’ is contributed by participants in the third pilot of the Varta Community Reporters (VCR) Training and Citizen Journalism Programme (May to September 2020, extended till March 2021). This edition of the programme also involves strategic dissemination of the published reports for community morale building, experience sharing and advocacy to ensure that affected people gain access to resources for immediate survival and long-term self-sustenance. The VCR Programme aims to build communication, documentation and journalistic skills among youth and other groups marginalized around gender, sexuality or other social markers. In the process, it also attempts to enhance the employability of the participants. The programme consists of training workshops (including online ones), mentoring sessions, and writers workshops on gender, sexuality, human rights, communication, documentation and storytelling. The current pilot is the third under the VCR Programme. It covers Assam, Odisha and West Bengal states, and there are seven VCRs (queer individuals and allies) engaged in the programme. This pilot is supported by CREA, Delhi. The first pilot of the VCR Programme was conducted in Manipur from March to August 2018, and stories generated through the pilot were published under the ‘Manipur Diary’ column. The second pilot, from February to July 2019, covered Assam, Manipur and West Bengal and the stories generated were published under the ‘VCR Diary’ column – Editor.

Visit this page for more details on the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme.

About the main photo: LGBTIQA+ activists at the Press Club Kolkata release of the charter of demands on March 27, 2021. Seated from left to right are speakers Rahul Mitra, Raina Roy, Tista Das, Aparna Banerjee, Pawan Dhall (moderator), and Sudeb Suvana. On the extreme left is sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee. Photo credit: Rafiquel Haque Dowjah