Hridika Rao, Student, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
Amidst the rising fear of the coronavirus pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community continues to suffer in ways more severe than their heterosexual counterparts. The Government, in its attempt to improve the situation, remains inconsiderate of the underlying struggles of the community. Social distancing might be a practice which is novel for us. However, it is not a new norm to be followed by the Pride Community as they have been forced by the homophobic societal prejudices to feel isolated from the rest of us, since time immemorial.
Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia have permeated deeply in their own homes, schools and even to their workplaces. For queer individuals, the shame and abuse kickstart very early in the niche of their houses, by being called out for acting “different” by their own parents and relatives. The most brutal form of bullying happens in schools and colleges, which formulate the early years of adulthood of the individuals as very troublesome. Being typecast as “chakka”, “hijra” or “meetha” and always being laughed at for their uniqueness, leaves an indelible impression in their minds, which further increases the risk of developing depression and the feeling of loneliness. The absence of any form of redressal mechanism to address such cases makes it more challenging to deal with and protect the children from being bullied. The young impressionable minds of the queer children begin to absorb hate, phobia and abashment from early on and makes them realise that this world is not the same for everyone.
The Supreme Court of India read down specific provisions of the archaic section 377 of the Indian Penal Court on 6th September 2018 which decriminalised consensual homosexual intercourse. This landmark decision turned out to be a day when the ‘pride’ of the Indian population tasted victory after a very long battle. However, think about it is that enough? How could we conveniently brush the issues of marriage, adoption, military services and surrogacy right under the carpet and view that as nothing but mere collateral damage? We know that one of the drawbacks of the legal provisions for the pride community consists of the fact that same-sex marriages are not legally recognised in India nor are they offered limited rights such as a civil union or domestic partnership.
In India, adoption by a single queer individual is recognised, but if homosexual couples would want to adopt a child, they are not entitled to such a right. This clearly demonstrates how they still are not equal before the law. Reinstating section 377 may have decriminalised homosexuality in India. However, the Indian mindset is still stigmatising gay couples, as the statements of an officer of one of the reputed adoption centres in Karnataka proves. According to her, a child cannot be given away to an “inferior couple”, such as gay or lesbian couples. “Gay culture is still not acceptable in India. A child should not go into such an inferior family. We prefer to place them in a wonderful family that is physically, mentally, and financially healthy.” These words clearly echo the deeply embedded stigma and hate in the mindsets of our people against the pride community which also explains why the orthodox citizens push the “Pride flag-bearers” further when they already are at their brink.
With the new surrogacy bill, gay couples are excluded from having their own children through a surrogate mother. Introduced to prevent commercialisation of surrogacy and to prohibit potential exploitation of the surrogate mother and the child, the bill is restricted to “married couples”, and by this, it disqualifies other persons based on marital status and sexual orientation, which further adds on to their miseries.
The transgender community certainly faces a maximum amount of sufferings with the minimum amount of privileges. Many of them survive on either begging or sex work. Most of them are daily-wage earners who feel just as stranded and helpless as migrant workers feel in our country. There are many transgender people who have been able to challenge the cycle of institutional bias to pursue various fields of professions. However, as a result of decades of structural discrimination, exclusion and violence, some members of the community continue to depend on alms, offering blessings and trying to earn a living.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by the Union Cabinet in the year 2019. At face value, it aims to prohibit discrimination of transgender people and empower them through the clause of self-identification of gender. However, several problems lie beneath its ‘righteous’ surface. The Act has been critiqued by trans activists across the nation and has led to vehement protests for a long time now. Some areas of concern with the act are as follows:
Firstly, it belies the basic principle of self-identification of gender as laid out by the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) judgement of 2014. The proposal of a screening committee at the district level—which will attest pre- and post-op trans individual and classify the former as merely ‘transgender’ and the latter solely as ‘male’ or ‘female’- violates the NALSA judgement’s stance that surgery, hormone therapy, and all other such interventions cannot be determinants of gender identity. Considering the Indian healthcare system, where there is a dearth of medical investment in trans healthcare, the sensitivity and training required to identify dysphoria, dysmorphia, and gender incongruence is questionable.
Secondly, it fails to recognise alternative family structures; it dismisses how the ‘hijra’ or ‘jogta’ and such communities have played more significant and more positive roles in trans lives. Biological families, at their core, remain mostly abusive and conservative for many trans people and the act fails to address this issue.
Thirdly, it criminalises begging, and the Anti Trafficking Bill (which prohibits sex work) takes away the already scarce methods of financial sustenance from the trans people, which have predominantly been the only ones with any security for the community.
Fourthly, the transgender people would require a certificate of identity as proof. To achieve that, they would have to go through some screening processes and medical reports. It is understandable how that could be necessary for administrative convenience, but one cannot ignore the fact that the screening process could be extremely humiliating and might be an infringement to the “right to privacy” of the trans people.
Due to the present lockdown situation which came into effect because of the coronavirus outbreak, it has become impossible for them to continue their daily work of “Basti Badhai” and left those who relied on begging in a worse situation. For most who are disowned by their biological families, going back home is also not an option. Within the transgender community, the panic does not only come from the threat of contracting the COVID-19, but also from fear of inaccessibility of daily food, medicines, shelter and other essential services. As an immediate impact of the national lockdown, the economic conditions of the community have been deteriorating every day. There has been no particular mention of transgender persons as beneficiaries in the financial aids extended by the Government, which is profoundly disturbing. Having said that, the time has come, to use this pride month to genuinely destigmatise the homophobic instincts from our society and voluntarily engage in sensitising the needs and desires of our fellow queer people by making them feel as valued and recognised, as we do.
Prashasti Awasthi, India’s Adoption Policy Discriminative Against LGBTQIA+, 20 Million Kids Remain Without Family, The Logical Indian, available at https://thelogicalindian.com/exclusive/adoption-policy-discriminative-against-lqbtqia/ , last seen on 27/06/2020. Chaitanya Mallapur, A New Bill Makes Surrogacy Illegal For Single Parents, Homosexuals and Live-in Couples, available at https://scroll.in/article/935438/a-new-bill-makes-surrogacy-illegal-for-single-parents-homosexuals-and-live-in-couples , last seen on 27/06/2020.  As The World Comes Together, India’s Transgender Community Fights COVID-19 Alone, Amnesty International India, available at https://amnesty.org.in/as-the-world-comes-together-indias-transgender-community-fights-covid-19-alone/ , last seen on 27/06/2020.  Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender_Persons_(Protection_of_Rights)_Act,_2019 , last seen 27/06/2020.