Five years ago, the editorial for the April 2014 issue of Varta focussed, in part, on the 16th Lok Sabha elections. In Jagah Hai…Sorry, Vote Hai Kya? the author (yours truly) observed that the Lok Sabha to be constituted that year would be the “first that will have seen the concerns [of queer] communities make an entry into the political rainbow of development issues”.
The editorial noted: “At least two political parties, the Indian National Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist), have included queer issues in their manifestos, while a third, the Aam Aadmi Party has just done a volte face and unceremoniously dropped them from its manifesto after having done a grand show of dialogue with gender and sexuality activists.”
Ironically, in 2014, the so called inclusion of queer issues in the political discourse came soon after the Supreme Court of India had reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and around the same time as it issued a verdict on transgender rights that was progressive but did not quite compel the government of the day to act in a progressive manner. It is to the credit of queer communities and their allies (including political ones?) that they continued the good fight, which ultimately saw the reading down of Section 377, two vigorous pushback campaigns against the Centre’s attempts to pass a disastrous transgender rights law, and several other successes within and outside the courts of law.
So here we are, once again in the middle of a painfully prolonged, multi-phase Lok Sabha elections. And the queer activist efforts through the last five years seem to have paid off. At least on the surface of it, queer issues appear to have made further inroads into the political discourse since the situation prevailing in 2014.
At least four political parties have included queer concerns in their election manifestos, with the Indian National Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) trying to pay more than lip service (see here and here). Queer individuals are now more visible in the organizational structures of some of the political parties. Queer individuals are also contesting the polls in far greater numbers than before, albeit many of them as independent candidates. Trans inclusion in voter lists, though far from ideal, has improved. There is even a Pink List of candidates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls who have publicly supported queer rights. In the May issue of Varta, we plan to carry detailed stories on these developments.
However, 2014 was also the time when an in-your-face saffronisation (read regress) of India made a start, which today has become quite deeply entrenched and is cause for serious concern. As the April 2014 editorial commented: “Of course, an inclusion of issues in manifestos is no guarantee of action on them after the elections are over . . .”
In similar vein, it has to be emphasized that the good fight for queer and other activisms is likely to get only tougher in the time to come, and visibility during the polling season can only be but a small part of that fight. A lot will depend on what long-term stand these activisms as well as queer and queer-friendly politicians take against the blatant and heartrending attempts to destroy the ‘idea of India’. For no two doubts about it, the saffron instinct trying to take over India has no real intent or space for anything that runs counter, and that sooner or later it will try to snuff out queer voices as well, especially that do not sing in sync.
No wonder then that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, completely silent on queer issues in 2014, has just a token mention for transgender communities in its 2019 manifesto. And that seems to be in keeping with the extremely questionable track record of the central government, which is dominated by the BJP, on the matter of transgender rights legislation.
So will the ‘queer rainbow’ put its lot behind the preservation of the much more intricate ‘rainbow fabric’ of India? Or will it allow itself to be content with decriminalization and other fig leaves of inclusion? Will it be unseeing of the violence around class, caste, race, food habits, ableism and religion; mute witness to the murder of scientific temper; and unhearing of the silencing in the name of prurient nationalism?