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Why Modi’s Return to Power in India could Spell Further Misery for Queer Citizens

On the 23rd of May 2019, Narendra Modi’s BJP led NDA government returned to power. This has grave implications for the LGBTQ+ community in India. With its divisive policies and support base composed primarily of the orthodox Hindus, its consideration of queer people within India has been greatly lacking.

When we talk about queer people in India, the conversation remains incomplete without discussing the decriminalisation of section 377– a part of the Indian penal code that declared homosexual acts illegal- that occurred on the 6th of September in 2018. In 2015 and 2016 Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member bill into the parliament aimed at decriminalising section 377. On both occasions, this motion was negated by members of the BJP. Following this, when the Supreme Court made the decision to decriminalise the parts of section 377 pertaining to homosexuality, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, remained conspicuously silent despite normally tweeting about landmark judgements and historical change within the country. His fellow party members, on the other hand, had largely negative things to say, comparing homosexuality with bestiality and vowing to not legalise other civil rights (like the recognition of civil unions, same-sex marriage, adoption for same-sex couples, etc) for members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The proposed Trans Bill which, fortunately, didn’t pass was quite wrongly named ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018’ since it provided Trans people with absolutely no protection.

The bill only recognised trans people as ‘real’ trans people if they underwent sex reassignment surgery. This further marginalises an already insecure minority group. It doesn’t account for the fact that many people may not have the protection or funds they need to transition. It also refuses to account for the many people who may not want to transition since this is a painful and long process made even more so in a country that doesn’t have the infrastructure it needs to protect and adequately provide for its trans citizens. Additionally, there are many trans people who identify with non-binary identities and, thus, don’t need to undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to express their gender identity.

This bill also directed the government to set up separate HIV surveillance centres for trans people. While trans people are a minority group that has been disproportionately infected and impacted by HIV, such a set up of a separate facility further stigmatises both HIV and the trans community.

Additionally, it refuses to accept the autonomy of adult trans people and to see them as full citizens. It provides for a rehabilitation centre for trans people if their own families are unable to take care of them. This assumes that adult trans people are unable to take care of themselves.

Furthermore, this bill attempted to criminalise the act of begging by trans people while also not providing any alternative or providing for legal protection in cases of transphobia which lead to the unemployment of many qualified trans people. Begging is often the only way for trans people to make money in India and this clause does not acknowledge that.

This bill, thus, attempted to ‘protect’ trans people without actually consulting any trans people about what they needed protection from. It was based on incomplete knowledge and understanding of trans people’s situation within the country and would surely have passed if it hadn’t been for the tireless actions of many activists and politicians.

Finally, we come to the BJP leaders and their statements about homosexuality. Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, called homosexuality ‘dangerous to social morality’ in a video from 2013.

Subramanian Swamy, in addition to comparing homosexuality to bestiality as mentioned above, also said that homosexuality was a western import used for commercial profit and upheld section 377 saying that ‘flaunting’ a homosexual identity should be punished.

Rajnath Singh, the current Indian minister of home affairs, called homosexuality ‘unnatural’ and said the BJP unequivocally opposed it.

None of this makes the future of queer communities within India seem positive while the BJP is at the helm of Indian democracy. All that Indian LGBTQ+ people can hope for is better advocacy and better allies so that this already marginalised group does not experience further marginalisation and discrimination.

Featured Image Via Tanvi Krishnakumar

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Tanvi is a 17-year-old student from Pune, India. She makes an impact through art, whether that is articles, stories, poetry, films, plays or music. Tanvi believes in uplifting minorities and hopes she can use her voice as a creative force for good.

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