India: Riding the rainbow

Last Sunday members of the LGBTQIA+ community sat across Congress leader Priya Dutt, (contesting elections from the Mumbai North Central constituency) at a Khar suburb of Mumbai to discuss India’s oldest political party's mention of equal rights for the community in its election manifesto.  With this a two-and-a-half decade long journey - which began with the All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha decade-long fight for voting rights which they finally secured in 1994 - was coming full circle. 

Dutt told the gathering she was always supportive of the equal rights demand long before her party came around. She also pointed out: “Credit for that doesn’t go to me or my party, but to the LGBTQIA+ community who mobilised to fight for social acceptance and ending all kinds of discrimination,” she said and added, “Their voices could only be ignored only for so long. Activists and sleaders who stood in solidarity with the movement individually (like Shashi Tharoor, who had moved a private member's bill to repeal the entire Section 377. But it was defeated on the floor of the House) also helped.”

A long battle

In 1996, community duo Kali (from Patna under the newly formed Judicial Reform Party) and Munni (from South Mumbai as Independent) contested elections. And though they lost, this opened doors for others. In three years Kamla Jaan got elected as mayor of Katni, Madhya Pradesh followed by Asha Devi who became the mayor of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.  

Trans-rights activist Shree Gauri Sawant insists these victories have to be seen from the context of the view of the traditional sociocultural acceptance for the hijra/kinnar community. “Whether it is Shabnam Mausi who went on to become an Independent MLA in the Madhya Pradesh assembly in 2002,  Heera, who won a seat in the Jabalpur City Council, or Gulshan, who was elected to the City Council in Bina, Etawa, and Kallu Kinnar, who was elected to the City Council in Varanasi, they have always had to deal with questions and probity that has always hovered on the stereotypical way society looks at trans community,” pointed out this trans rights activist who was the first trans person petition the Supreme Court for adoption rights for transgender people. This petitioner in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) case in which the Supreme Court recognised transgender persons as the third gender asks why none of the parties have followed-up for the long-standing demand for a transgender community welfare board. "From the Mahabharata where a trans character Shikhandi  was used to win the war and then treated as expendable, the trans community has been continuously used and abused."

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