Tag Archive for LGBT rights India

Suicidal tendencies of trans women : Links between loneliness and exclusion

Transgender- India

This is an edited version of the paper presented at the Seminar on Trans Inclusion: Implications and Challenges held on 21 and 22 January 2016 at the Periyar University, Tamil Nadu

By Prof. A Mani
It is well known that a large percentage of trans women experience social exclusion, isolation, loneliness and suicidal tendencies at various stages of their life. An alarmingly large percentage actually attempt suicide at some stage of their life. For details of the situation in the US and EU, one can refer to the surveys indicated in the references [1,2,3]. Since loneliness is a subjective internal experience, all of these surveys and much of activism has focused on social exclusion, isolation and discrimination. In this article the nature and existence of connections between loneliness, exclusion, sexualities and suicidal tendencies is explored in India and ‘developed societies’ through reference to surveys and also to personal blogs and accounts. At the end of the essay I present a research agenda as the amount of information available is inadequate to create a supportive political and social environment. However some suggestions for demands are also made at the end to address and bring down the high rate of suicide amongst trans women.

Social Isolation and Concepts of Loneliness
Loneliness (or ‘real loneliness’) is best seen as an interior, subjective experience that is influenced by external objective conditions in different ways [4,7,10]. Two different individuals do not in general generate identical degrees of response in similar loneliness inducing objective contexts. It is not the same thing as being alone and one may feel severe loneliness in the company of others.

Loneliness can have a number of negative consequences on humans that include: reduced lifespan, heath problems, lowered level of trust levels in others, feelings of social incompetence, victim mentality and self consciousness [4,5,6,9].

Stokes and Levin’1986 [8] in a couple of studies on social networks found that men may use more group oriented criteria in evaluating loneliness, whereas women focus more on the qualities of dyadic relationships. Other studies confirm similar phenomena [10], but the nature of loneliness in trans people and coping mechanisms that they may adopt is not well understood.

Research on connections between gender differences and loneliness needs to be reviewed with a feminist perspective for useful conclusions to be drawn, as the focus used in many studies seem to be unsuitable. There are many studies on loneliness in the literature ( [4--10] and some of the conclusions are used in this article.

On Suicidal Tendencies of Trans Women
People can, in general, plan their suicides in many different ways and they do kill themselves in many ways, but I will not be concerned with the suicide act as such. Here my concerns will be about the maturity level and nature of suicide plans of transsexual women during their pre-transition days or during transition. The exercise should be useful for formulating/defining concepts of reasonable social transition process and in accessing extent of damage due to social isolation and loneliness.
Of the various patterns in trans women suicides in their pre/post-transition state or transition the following are fairly prominent:

Those who have killed themselves at a relatively young age-under 25, have done so due to social oppression, persecution and inability to find the means to escape from them. The number of women in this category who actually commit suicide for reasons of wrong self-diagnosis is comparatively small. The number of people who kill themselves for their own inability to come to terms with their state may seem to be large – but blame should be put on social conditions for precipitating such a state of affairs through intersectional feminist perspectives.

All of the above also apply to the class of people who kill themselves at relatively older ages – above 30, but there are also important differences-studies of which are still insufficient. For this age-group the reasons also tend to center around problems of body transformations and insurmountable defensive adaptations of pre-transition period.

The insufficiency mentioned above is in choice of paradigms for empirical studies that pervade across age groups. It is known that problems like depression, social isolation and poor quality of life are common among “late bloomers”. These have been confirmed in recent duplication studies. It is also possible to collect large sets of data from people, but predicting failure or success is not easy because the coupling that matters may not be available for expression at all times and may also be consciously hidden by the subject of study in question. A relevant but limited study that attempts to answer some of questions is Moody and others in 2013 [17].

I am also working on the problem from a vagueness related mathematical perspective. Essentially it is about problem representation and finding multi-stage reducts (or removing the chaff). Simplified schematics have the following form:

So let us call our subject X.

X is a trans women of chronological age > 30

X wants feature sets F and maybe G as part of her transition process.

This F may be graded in various ways.

X has developed a set of adaptations S in response to loneliness (or ‘real loneliness’ if you like) connected with gender dysphoria. It should be mentioned that not all trans women feel that way.
Typically X is likely to commit suicide on realizing that critical parts of F would not be possible. In ideal situations, this and connections with S suffice to predict a “mature suicide”. But other social factors do matter and related prediction models are bound to get more complex.

Knowledge of feminism with all its intersectionality is an important life saving skill that is sometimes omitted by some trans women with terrible consequences because for them ‘feminism’ is a bad word. For people in the scope of ‘mature suicide’, there may often be no further sources of suicide mitigation.

Loneliness of the Dead
Examples for these patterns are not difficult to find, but ones with volumes of additional records are less common as in case of late Jess Phipps. Jess Shipps produced many popular you tube videos, was a moderator of few trans related subreddits, had plenty of social connections, was often vocal, expressive, positive and rarely seemed to lack empathy – all that is from her online expression and views of her friends. Yet, she was experiencing real loneliness (without social isolation), unemployment (and mentioned these as the primary reasons for her suicide) and was not really passing by her own standards (the last part is deducible from her posts in reddit). She needed wigs and makeup to pass and also believed that the “idea of a woman is distorted by mainstream media and nobody is perfect”. Maybe her suicide note was influenced by her position in trans advocacy… maybe not, but her suicide was the result of coupling of multiple factors and not just one of them.

Eventually it was the lack of material and emotional support that killed her. But it is surprising that she was actually looking forward to getting emotional support – that amounts to a tactical mistake.

Loneliness in the Living
Prof. A ManiA: Personal Experience:
Though I realized that I am a woman in my pre-teen years, my transition was well after my 30th year. I had to manage extremely high degree of loneliness in my pre-transition times – that was despite being fairly active in many academic and geek groups. The methods of adaptation included workaholism (through multiple careers), extreme degree of involvement in studies and research in solitude, cutting off people and bigots for a variety of reasons and restricting all interaction to bare essentials.

The nature of my suicidal tendencies during my pre-transition period was so mature that I had a definite plan that can be summarized in “suicide is admissible if no transition option becomes available and body has been sufficiently poisoned by testosterone”.

Physical part of my transition was very easy for me as I was already good looking, femme, healthy, athletic, response to hormones was excellent (that stabilized at estrogen level of ~360+ pg/ml (very high female range), had no complications, a partial class advantage and an Asian advantage. Details of some aspects of my transition can be found in my blog [18]. Suicidal tendencies vanished completely on commencement of HRT itself, but am yet to fully come out of the grips of loneliness related adaptations of pretransition period. Apparently this relates to a lack of open lesbian culture, prevalent transphobia and lesbophobia (am in Kolkata, India) among substantial sections of the older generation and an inhumane society. Hitting it off with women interested in women is easy for me, but not all lesbians are bold enough to break free of the patriarchy. A related aspect is that a generation of more Internet savvy urban upper class lesbians tend to be more confident in deviating from patriarchal norms in comparison to the women with far too limited opportunities to even explore themselves.

The Wikipedia articles on sex, gender and sexuality would be rated as pornography by majority of the population stuck in religion and/or conservative hetero sexist norms. No wonder the default goal of most of the whole LBT spectrum is to “emigrate”.

B: Experiences of Other Indian Trans Women
Brenda is a scientist who completed her doctorate from IMSC, Chennai before moving to Germany. Some of the issues that she faced are documented in [15]. This is what she has to say on the matter:

“1. Growing up it’s easy to assume (for myself) a hetero-normative appearance but once puberty hits, randomness + self questioning begins.

2. No matter how much I tried to hit this part, it doesn’t stay buried, if I hang out with male friends all those random comments about women bother. (not exactly misogynistic just to be clear)

3. At some point you are unable to express and process your own feelings especially sexual. (pan sexuality in my case was more than fun, just for the record)

4. Also with lack of proper sex education + information on sexual `and` gender diversity, it was hard for me to process my sexuality from gender identity.

5. Plus most of the common example of trans identity (pertaining to India) comes from media and what I see on the streets, which incidentally was almost never positive.

6. There were only two positive instances of media portrayal of trans I remember in my childhood (pardon me if my memory is not right). One – I think the movie was Sadak and Sadashiv Amrapurkar played a trans person who is in charge of a brothel (not a positive trans character but not one which was made a caricature of just for fun, which is what usually happens in Indian media). The second one was, I think, where a female infant is abandoned but adopted by a trans woman and the story revolves for the first part about their daughter and her parental relationship. I enjoyed the above two movies but rarely spoke about it with friends or family for fear of being ridiculed.

7. With dissonance in relating with real life friends, video games were easy to relate.

8. In fact this is my common observation, if I meet another younger trans person, I would say with 70% certainty that video games are a safe topic to discuss and bond with.

9. Sadly I have also seen a fraction of trans people take refugee in alcohol or weed. (I am grateful neither of them are on my list).

10.Luckily my transition to Germany was a boon since the LGBT group is a bit wide and I never felt loneliness.

11. In fact in the 4 years I made like 5 times the number of friends I have in all my 28 years in India (and bear in mind, Germans are known to be a conservative lot, in terms of personal space).”

Anamika, a student of IIT Kharagpur (as of this writing) experienced dysphoria since her early childhood. She suppressed all desired gender expression and behavior, and tried to act normal in the sense of the decadent patriarchy for much of her life. Not surprisingly she remained as lonely as ever at the institute. When she did try to explore herself, this was the result in her own words [15]:

“Amidst these feelings, changing my body to match my gender for the better seemed a far fetched reality at least in the near future and having dealt with the emotional pain and self-abuse for a decade, I didn’t see any further hope. So at the start of my 3rd semester, I cut off all my contacts and was about to attempt suicide, when a senior (who later became one of my closest friends) contacted me. I didn’t tell him anything about myself then, yet he suggested that I consider visiting the Counseling Center as an option before taking any such step (I could always go back if it didn’t help) and it seemed a reasonable bargain to me. That small decision turned out to be a life changing event. I always had very low self-esteem with almost negligible self-worth and self-love, so accepting myself as a transgender girl was a bitter experience. It took me almost 2 years of therapy to accept myself and become comfortable to open-up to others.”

C: Trans Women in Developed World
Sub-optimal conditions prevail for trans women in the so-called developed world and some quantification has been attempted through surveys. To really understand we need to look at personal writings and blogs.

Being openly trans matters a lot. Natalie Yeh agrees with this. She is an Asian American trans woman living in Los Angeles. She transitioned after 30 and her musings on her post transition loneliness suggest that she is tired of explaining herself to others to the point that she finds herself muttering, “Maybe I’ll just live out a simple, solitary life…it’s not so bad, many people do it.”

Naomi Ceder did not have suicidal tendencies despite being in the closet all through her long pre-transition years in a hostile environment. In one of her blog posts she says ,“For a trans kid in this environment self hatred was inevitable. There was literally no one I knew who was like me, no one I could dare talk to, for fear of exposure and humiliation and worse.”

Rebecca Williams has this to say on loneliness:
“I think one of the things that can trigger acute feelings of loneliness is being “different”. Being different could mean anything, in this world. …. I think people internalize this difference as sense of wrongness early on in their lives. They learn to be ashamed of their difference, of themselves. In a sense, they learn to hide that part of themselves away. It is that part, that sense of self that feels lonely. I think people are in the most part resilient, especially as children, and they learn to cope and adapt around this sense of difference. Sometimes these coping mechanisms work OK, other times they don’t…. But to foster a culture of tolerance and kindness can only be a positive thing for everyone, so everyone can learn to be more themselves, a little more different, a little bit more individual.”
Here “learn to be ashamed ” necessarily requires propaganda by bigots of various grades.

Generalities of Loneliness in Trans Women
Trans women are often excluded by way of social stigma and this has its effect on their socializing techniques and methodologies. While it is true that only a small fragment of people believe in excluding them and get actively involved in actually excluding them, much of the evil hype is sustained by lack of knowledge, misogyny and by the patriarchy. As a result of exposure to bigoted environments many trans women are likely to be predisposed to activate their self-defense mechanisms on even partial clues of bigotry. Such heightened sensitivity may not necessarily be justified in the context in question.

This means that people wanting to interact with trans women in society need to be way more sensitive to trans issues- that is for real interaction to be possible.

Based on key generalities that can be isolated/ abstracted from the nature of loneliness in trans women, loneliness in their pre-transition state may be seen as the result of the following factors:

Their own gender dysphoria inhibiting the feel of their positive interactions with people. This in turn can result in their learning of social interaction over time being less than optimal.

External anti-social actions and systemic discrimination generated by other patriarchal forces (mostly men) in response to preferred gender expression and interaction models of trans women, and Internalized social conditioning limiting their preferred gender expression and interaction models.

Trauma due to physical violence, if any, can be a factor in causing trans women to isolate themselves from situations even remotely related to the threatening situation of their experience.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to physical and sexual violence, if any experienced by a trans women, can also be a reason for social withdrawal and impaired social function. It can be safely said that they would feel the bad effects in more severe ways than what cis women would have felt in similar situation. This is because PTSD in socially isolated people is harder to cure than in relatively less isolated people.

In an ideal tolerant environment, gender dysphoria would still kill and loneliness in pre-transition maybe the natural result of socially interacting in the wrong body. But this does not reduce the criminal responsibility of intolerant people who seek to exclude at every turn.

During physical transition, passing can affect socialization and this can happen even within LGBT groups. Further some trans women may actually believe that psychological changes from HRT is the cause of loneliness or that it intensifies the feeling of loneliness.

A related description that some trans women identify with is that whereas over time HRT improves their dysphoria and their physical appearance, they find the loneliness crushing them inside out. But this happens almost always due to their social anxiety and ideas of ‘passing’ to the point that they find the very idea of meeting people a terrifying one. Here loneliness is due to external factors, but is the feeling of loneliness actually being made deeper due to HRT? Though it is known that HRT tends to intensify emotions and improve levels of empathy in trans women, it cannot be immediately concluded that the same happens for feelings of loneliness.

Whatever the various causes, loneliness in trans women is never due to themselves alone.

Research Problems
It is clear that when we read ‘gender’ as a plural concept, then loneliness is related to it. But the concept of ‘gender identity’ is unrelated or ‘less related’. Two problems that seem to be of some interest are:
* How can we define usable concepts of ‘gendered loneliness’?
* What is the relationship of gender dysphoria to such possible concepts of ‘gendered loneliness’?

Sexuality and Related Intersections

Human beings exhibit a wide range of sexual orientation. Trans women may also have different sexual orientation and yes, it relates to their well being [2]. The largest EU survey in particular estimated that majority of the trans women were exclusively/predominantly sexually attracted to women. Survey data about preferences of trans women from countries like India are not available as most are closeted. Any talk about inclusion of trans people should also consider their sexualities in proper perspective. In this research paper, I will focus on trans lesbians from a lesbian perspective, how persecution of women who love women affects them adversely and what is required of society and socio-political economy to include them in the Indian context.

Trans women may belong to the very poor, poor, lower middle class, middle class, upper classes or super rich classes of society. They are discriminated and objectified at every turn and social progress is always an uphill task for them – this discrimination does not happen in a uniform way because of a number of reasons. In general, it can be said that objectification, discrimination and persecution applicable to women in general applies to trans women as well as they are women. Trans-ness carries its own load of objectification, discrimination and persecution, in addition, due to the patriarchy. But there are differences between the classes of trans women. Most trans women who belong to middle class and above are closeted and their lives are undocumented and less well known. While, those who are poor and part of stigmatized cultural groups are more severely persecuted and their persecution is more visible in the media.

A typical upper class trans woman in India can be expected to escape to a foreign country or a different part of the country after or before medical and legal procedures for her gender affirmation. So she would be living a new life as a cis woman and maybe a lesbian. The number of sex reassignment surgeries conducted by doctors in the country confirms the invisibility aspect. But all this requires resources and comes at substantial personal cost.

Middle and upper class societies (even in cosmopolitan Indian cities) differ a lot on their tolerance levels of human homosexuality. While religious people are predominantly bigoted, indulge in myth making to further their bigotry, irreligious people are tolerant and at least willing to learn. The bigger problem is that sex and egalitarian gender education is not compulsory and people may not be maintaining minimum standards in their relationships. This affects quality of lesbian relationships too.

An important concept in relationship to same-sex sexual relationships is that of ‘being closeted’. There are many levels of the concept ranging from ‘fully closeted’ (only the people involved in the relationship know about it), ‘open to friends’ (meaning a few friends know about it), ‘open to friends and relatives’ to ‘out and proud’. Such states are often dictated by the nature of discrimination or may be a conscious display of will to change society for the better.

If a Post-Op trans woman and a cis lesbian are in sexual relationship in India, then they are likely to be affected by the following:

Bigotry and hetero-sexist harassment from parents and relatives

Job discrimination

Absence of Community

General alienation from society

Hate and Sexual Harassment from bigots, micro aggressions from so-called friends/relatives, and
Poor medical support.

All that is trivially affected by the level to which they are ‘out’ in society. If both partners are closeted (and living together), then they are certain to feel alienated from society, indulge in deceptive acting in hetero sexist society, be at the receiving end of poor medical support. Trans women may simply avoid routine medical check ups because of the situation, while cis women may also avoid because many doctors are not knowledgeable enough on what constitutes non-discriminatory behavior. Otherwise being closeted (if it is an option) has its short-term advantages.

Most post-op trans lesbians would have left (or have abandoned) their parents and relatives – this is a common way of escaping from related problems. The same applies to cis lesbians as well, though it is also true that many parents are supportive of their daughter’s choices.

Demands
Proper rehabilitation of trans women, then requires lot more than the NALSA judgment and its implementation.
It is necessary to;
Eliminate archaic colonial laws that criminalize same-sex relations.
Provide for marriage equality.
Make feminist sex education compulsory for all.
Impose remedial courses (for discrimination-free treatment) for all medical professionals, heavily subsidize medical treatment for trans people.

Provide reservations and subsidies for trans people and women in all sectors for at least twenty years to compensate for the systemic damage and means of damage that are already in place.

References
[1]. Injustice at Every Turn – National Transgender Discrimination Survey: Full Report Sept’2012, NCTE Download Link (http://transequality.org/issues/resources/national-transgender-discrimination-survey-full-report )
[2]. EU LGBT Survey’ December’2014: Results at a Glance
EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Dec’2014, Download Link (http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2014/eu-lgbt-survey-european-union-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-survey-main)
[3]. Labia Collective: Labia Collective Survey’ April’2013. Download Link (https://sites.google.com/site/labiacollective/we-do/research/report_btb/btbReport.pdf?attredirects=0 )
[4]. Russell, D. ‘UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): Reliability, validity, and factor structure’,Journal of Personality Assessment, 66, 1996, 20–40.
[5]. AIPC Article Library: July’2012, Link to Article (http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/symptoms-causes-and-effects-of-loneliness/ )(accessed on 15th June’2015)
[6]. AIPC Article Library: ‘Counseling Strategies for Dealing with the Lonely Client’, July’2012, Link to Article (http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/counselling-strategies-for-dealing-with-the-lonely-client/ )(accessed on 15th June’2015)
[7]. Aspel, Melaine, Ann. Let’s talk about feeling lonely. New York; Rosen Publishing, 2001.
[8]. Hackney, H., Cormier, S., The professional counselor – a process guide to helping. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2005.
[9]. Stokes J, Levin I. ‘Gender differences in predicting loneliness from social network characteristics.’ Journal of Personal Social Psychology 1986 Nov.51(5).1069–74.
[10]. Yang, J. ‘Relationship between gender traits and loneliness: the role of self-esteem’. Master’s Thesis, Brandeis University Feb 2009. 41pp
[11]. Jessie Shipps, ‘RIP : Suicide Note Discussion’ (http://www.reddit.com/r/DeadRedditors/comments/3awh7w/rip_ulumberchick/ )Jessie Shipps: Reddit Userpage (https://www.reddit.com/user/Lumberchick )
[12]. Natalie Yeh, ‘The Lonely Journey of a Transsexual Woman.’ 2013, Blog Post (https://menopausebeforepuberty.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/the-lonely-journey-of-a-transsexual-woman/ )
[13]. Naomi Ceder, ‘Thoughts on a Trans Teen Suicide.’ 2015, Blog Post (http://whataboutnaomi.blogspot.in/2015/01/thoughts-on-trans-teen-suicide.html )
[14]. Rebecca Williams, ‘Loneliness.’ 2013, Blog Post (http://rebeccakeiko.blogspot.in/2013/03/loneliness.html )
[15]. Brenda Jacks, ‘Acceptance and Denial.’ 2012, Blog Post.(http://orinam.net/acceptance-and-denial/ )
[16]. Anamika, ‘Fear Can Hold You Prisoner, But Hope Can Set You Free: Being a Transgender Girl at IIT Kharagpur.’ Blog Post (http://www.scholarsavenue.org/ga/fear-can-hold-you-prisoner-hope-can-set-you-free/ )
[17]. Moody, C., Smith, N. G. ‘Suicide Protective Factors Among Trans Adults’, Arch Sex Behaviour (2013) 42:739–752
[18]. Mani, A., ‘Femme Dialectics,’ 2014+ My Blog (http://logicamani.blogspot.in/)

Prof A. Mani is an active researcher in algebra, logic, rough sets, vagueness and foundations of Mathematics. She has published extensively on the subjects in a number of international peer-reviewed journals. Her current affiliations include the University of Calcutta. She is also a course developer, teacher, free software contributor, advocate, consultant in statistical and soft computing. As a functional feminist, she has been active in many lesbian and women’s rights groups as well. She is an active lesbian, her homepage and blog are respectively at http://www.logicamani.in and http://logicamani.blogspot.in

UN’s gay rights music video – an instant hit in India

UN- gay -music -video-India

By Team FI

The United Nations’ new music video on gay rights has become an instant hit in India, despite widely prevalent social stigma and ostracism faced by the LGBT citizens of the country. Launched last month as part of UN’s Free & Equal campaign, the Bollywood-style music video is aimed at promoting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

The two-and-a-half minute video, called “The Welcome”, stars bollywood actress Celina Jaitly who is known for her open support for the LGBT cause . Last year, Jaitly was nominated as “UN equality champion” in recognition of her support for LGBT equality. She makes her musical debut in the video, singing a new version of the 1979 Bollywood classic, Uthe Sab Ke Kadam. The song was recomposed and remixed by Neeraj Shreedhar of Bombay Vikings. The concept for the video was developed by creative agency Curry Nation.

United Nation’s Free & Equal campaign aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of LGBT people. The campaign, which had its global launch in South Africa, in July 2013, is led by the UN Human Rights Office.

In December 2011, the UN Human Rights Office published the first official UN report on violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. The report documented widespread human rights abuses. More than 76 countries still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships, while in many more discrimination against LGBT people is widespread – including in the workplace and in the education and health sectors.

Hate-motivated violence, including physical assault, sexual violence, and targeted killings, has been recorded in all regions. In 2014, the situation has gained greater recognition but has not changed drastically. A few more countries recognize same sex marriages, and adoption. There is also some recognition, in a few countries like Germany of trans gendered individuals as a third category in forms to be filled. However, in many parts of the world, LGBT lives and practices remain criminalized.

Supreme Court refuses to review section 377, LGBT groups protest in Delhi

gay- sex -ban- india

Members of gay community and human rights activists condemn the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the review of Section 377 and call it a set back to the fundamental rights of all Indians

By Team FI

Members of the LGBT community along with women’s and human rights groups protested in Delhi yesterday against the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to review its earlier verdict on gay sex.

In December last year, the Supreme Court of India had passed a controversial order re-criminalizing gay sex in the country. Following this, a review petition was filed by eight parties including the Union of India, parents of LGBTQ persons, Voices Against 377, teachers, mental health professionals, veteran film maker Shyam Benegal and the Naz Foundation. The apex court dismissed the petition seeking a review of section 377 on Tuesday.

According to the press note issued by the LGBT group, the court’s decision represents an abdication by the judiciary to protect the spirit of the constitution. “The court disregarded arguments made by the parties, did not consider key findings of the Delhi High Court judgment, and was seemingly blind to the voluminous material on record that incontrovertibly established rape, torture, discrimination, and harassment of LGBTQ persons as a direct and inevitable consequence of Section 377”.

There is nothing ‘miniscule’ about the concerns of the LGBTQ community and that the fight against discrimination is everyone’s fight

Calling the SC decision a temporary reversal, the press release said that the LGBTQ community is not disheartened. “Regardless of the decision of the Court, our activism asserting the right to live without fear and discrimination, and indeed to live with pride, will remain undimmed. If anything, we are strengthened and heartened by the wide range of support we have seen and felt. The media, mainstream political parties, ordinary persons, families of LGBTQ persons, mental health professionals, teachers, academics, artists have all stood with us in favour of the constitutional guarantee of dignity to the LGBTQ community.”

The press note stated that community intends pursue all legal options, including curative petitions, “There is No Going Back’. Regardless of the Court’s ruling, we walk with pride. As the Delhi High Court judgment reminded us, our rights are inalienably ours – they Court did not confer them on us, it cannot take them away” states the press release.

Marginalised groups march to reclaim Republic Day

LGBT-rights-India

Activists and individuals representing the marginalised of the country organise their own Republic Day parade demanding that the government fulfill its constitutional promises

By Team FI

A broad platform of LGBT groups, women’s groups, workers, students and persons with disabilities organised a Republic Day Parade in the capital today.

Raising the slogan, ‘We The People, Reclaim our Republic’, some 400-odd people held their own Republic Day march in Delhi to reiterate their right to the Constitution of India and to remind the State of its unfulfilled constitutional promises to the marginalised in society. The protestors felt that the annual Rajpath Republic Day parade held by the government represented only the powerful. The intention to hold this parade was to commemorate the Republic not as minorities, or others but as the people of the country. The protestors marched from the crossing of Barakhamba Road and Tolystoy Marg to the Jantar Mantar. The march ended with speeches, performances and slogans.

A press note issued by the organisers pointed out that the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary of the country — have failed their Constitutional duty to protect and advance people’s constitutional rights listing the examples of the recent of re-criminalisation of homosexuality by the judiciary through Sec 377 IPC; the failure of the executive to introduce suitable amendments into as yet untabled Disability Rights Bill, 2013; the continuing presence of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); the active use of UAPA and sedition laws; the apathy of the state in the face of deepening caste and religious violence; the inadequacies of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013 to address violence against women, among many others.

Rejecting the spectacle of the parade of weapons, this year we declare an alternative agenda for the people’s republic

reclaim-the-republic-dayThe following is the agenda of the People’s Republic groups:

Gender, Sexuality and Violence
• Repeal Section 377 of the IPC and other laws on sexual or gender identity, obscenity, or public nuisance that render people vulnerable because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
• Address extra-legal violence in private and public on the basis of gender, caste, and faith
• Address urgent lacunae in the laws on sexual violence to include violence against transgender people and men, penalise marital rape and remove impunity for the Army
• Work across institutions to make private and public spaces safe for women
• Recognize organised violence against minority communities and strengthen their claims to justice by passing the Communal Violence Bill.
• Abolish the Death Penality
• Amend the Special Marriage Act to remove notification to homes and police stations.
• Opening homes for protection for inter-faith and inter-caste couples in need
Non-Discrimination
• Pass comprehensive Non-discrimination legislation that prevents discrimination between citizens and private actors, institutions and within the family.
• Mainstream people with disabilities – inclusion is non-negotiable!
• Mandate and encourage making private and public spaces accessible for people with disabilities

State Violence and Power
• Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and end millitary rule
• Repeal UAPA and Sedition Laws used to target citizens and political activists
• Repeal the Prevention of Torture Bill and introduce new legislation in line with Convention against Torture
• Implement police reforms to make the police forces accountable
Transparency and Accountability
• Protect and strengthen RTI by enacting an effective whistleblower protection law immediately and activating Information Commissions
• Enact proposed legislations on accountability: Grievance Redress Bill, Judicial Accountability Bill must be passed
• Grievance redressal centres must be set up at panchayat and ward levels.
• Establish and require institutionalized social audits for every public scheme, and create a separate agency for the same.
• Safe drinking water & sanitation in every household
Economic Development and Social Security
• Strengthen people’s control over their own development and stop evictions, land grabs and appropriations of natural resources
• Universalise social security pensions with exclusions for the non-poor, increase the pension amount to Rs. 2000 or half the minimum wage and link all social security pensions to inflation, to be revised regularly.
• Expand and protect fair use within copyright and patent regimes to ensure access to generic medicines as well as educational materials.
• Revise mininum wage indexes for NREGA and extend livelihood guarnatee to urban areas and workers
• Expand provisions and effectively implement the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008
• Land to every landless family, specially dalit and adivasi women
• Considering the massive expansion of the private sector to the tune of almost 75% of India’s economy, it is necessary that the constitutional mechanism of reservation in private sector be legislated and enforced.

Scrap Article 377, defend LGBT /queer rights

LGBT-rights-India

The apex court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of IPC 377 that criminalises gay sex is a massive blow to the very cornerstone of democracy-pluralism

By Soma Marik

In 1895, during the trial of Oscar Wilde, the German socialist Eduard Bernstein wrote a few articles in the German Social Democratic press on the issue. While confused by today’s standards, Bernstein made a few cogent points. On the view that same sex relations were unnatural, Bernstein commented:

“Our entire cultural existence, our mode of life from morning to night is a constant offence against nature, against the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only a question of what was natural, then the worst sexual excess would be no more objectionable than, say, writing a letter – for conducting social intercourse through the medium of the written word is far further removed from nature than any way as yet known of satisfying the sexual urge. Have there not been observed among animals (usually amongst domestic and captive animals, of course, but these are still significantly closer to nature than man himself) and amongst so-called natural peoples practices relieving the sexual urge which would colloquially be termed, “unnatural”?

He went on to argue that in reality, in most civilised countries, sexual intercourse, while formally being described as being related to the propagation of new generations, was actually conducted for pleasure, and was “unnatural” in the sense that all attempts were usually taken to ensure that childbirths did not result from the act.

Bernstein used the word “abnormal” in preference to “unnatural”, suggesting that this was a deviation from the norm. He suggested that there was a need to understand the history of same sex relations rather than to condemn it. In particular, he made out an extremely strong argument. It is the male same sex relation that has been the prime target. Both English and German law condemned this. Anal sex perpetrated between two men was a criminal offence, as it indeed still is, in terms of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But quoting Kraft-Ebbing, Bernstein showed that Prussian law did not punish sodomy when one partner was a woman. As he argued, this latter was most often carried out on women who had no say in the matter, so that it was in fact “inferior” (in his words) to such a relationship between two males. The rise of the “paternal-right family” meant the woman’s body was of little consequence. If she was a prostitute, the state in Prussia oversaw the health of her sex organs to the extent that if a man infected her with a sexually transmitted disease, she was kept locked up. But how a man, whether the husband or the customer, used a woman’s body was of supreme unconcern to the state.

Bernstein’s authority being Kraft-Ebbing, he had the problem of viewing same-sex relations as a medical or psychological issue. Despite that, a century and eighteen years back, he, and a large part of the SPD, were involved in the campaign for the abolition of punishment for homosexual relations.

118 years later, the Supreme Court of India as well as the entire range of Indian political parties have shown their inability to grasp this. Bernstein had grasped, however imperfectly, that hetero-sexism is rooted in the heterosexual, patriarchal family relations. Under capitalist conditions, the family of this kind is important for the perpetuation of class divisions from one generation to the next. It provides a cheap and ideologically acceptable mechanism for reproducing human labour. This involves using unpaid, and overwhelmingly female labour in the family to care for the young, the old, as well as for the male working adult. Monogamous, heterosexual love as a compulsion is a central aspect of the family system as it exists. The state and its laws, the medical and psychiatric establishments, much of the educational system, are all tailored to promote procreative heterosexuality and to stigmatize and suppress other forms of sexuality, often described as abnormal, irresponsible, or medical cases.

Marxist responses subsequently to start with Engels varied from hostility, indifference, and deprioritization. Since the 1970s different currents of Marxists have been compelled to take up the LGBT issue seriously as a political issue. The Fourth International argued in 2003:

“As long as society is organized in a way which assumes that many basic needs will be met within the family, all those who are marginalized from it or choose not to live in it will have difficulty in meeting their needs. This family form under capitalism presupposes and reproduces a heterosexual norm, which pervades the state and society and is oppressive to anyone who deviates from it. As long as heterosexual love is the basis for forming a family, people whose emotional and sexual lives revolve largely around same-sex love are marginalized from family life. As long as the family is a central place where children are raised, lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgendered children will grow up alienated – even more than children and young people in general are alienated in the family; and children’s access to adults, especially unmarried adults, and other children to whom they are not biologically related will often be limited. As long as only heterosexual desire and romance permeate capitalist consumer culture, LGBT people will feel invisible. As long as heterosexuality is defined as the norm by the state and medical and psychiatric establishments, LGBT people will be explicitly or implicitly discriminated against and marginalized. Repressive laws and widespread social discrimination intensify this oppression in most parts of the world, but repealing repressive laws and combating social discrimination will not by themselves eliminate it”.

In India, the LGBTQ community is mostly hidden. The Telegraph, reporting the SC judgement, suggested the figure of 12 million for a possible size of this community. In course of the case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal & Another v. Naz Foundation & Others, attempts were made to present before the Supreme Court a mass of evidence concerning discrimination, harassment, and torture faced by LGBT persons.

The Supreme Court, in striking down the Delhi High Court judgement, has argued that the High Court had relied too much on foreign judgements, which cannot be applied to the Indian context. This is not the first time that judgements in foreign courts have been discussed by Indian courts. So this insularity has to do with a political orientation, regardless of the formal words uttered. In that case, what the Supreme Court is deferring to, is the socially constructed and maintained conservatism. This finds striking confirmation in the utterances of Baba Ramdev, the BJP, and the Darul Uloom Deoband. For Ramdev and the BJP this is a western aberration that has no space in “Indian tradition”. For the Darul Uloom Deoband deputy Vice Chancellor Maulana Abul Khlik Madrasi, “Homosexuality is an offence under Islamic law and ‘haram’ [prohibited] in Islam”.

The apex court has upheld the constitutionality of IPC 377 by rejecting the constitutional validity of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of our constitution. By this it had written off the very cornerstone of democracy,—-pluralism.

The court distinguishes between “those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course” and “those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The Court says that therefore section 377 is not classified irrationally or arbitrarily. In other words, the Supreme Court is opposed to sex against the “order of nature”. But in that case, should the Supreme Course not oppose, in a spasm of judicial activism, the Government of India’s decades long birth control or the so–called ‘population control’ campaigns? Sex using condoms, sex after various measures to ensure that women do not get pregnant? Is not it going to the extent of authorising the policing of sex lives to check whether fellatio is committed?

The Supreme Court has also argued that the LGBT community is a very small community. So it seems that if a community is sufficiently small, then being a minority confers no assistance. Rather, if you are a small enough minority, then your rights can be violated with impunity since that does not disturb the public peace. The Court cites the fact that there have been only a handful of convictions as proof the community is small. It prefers to ignore how the police routinely harass, take bribes, etc, when it sees same sex activities. The fact that the existence of the law acts as a perpetual threat to the LGBT community is totally ignored.

The court also rejects the claims that Article 377 leads to violation of the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity and sexual choice and the right to live with dignity. The cases cited by the court have been extremely confused. Of course, the women’s movement has long opposed certain uses of the argument of privacy, for e.g., when it is used to hide rape of a wife by a husband. But that is not the concern of the SC. Ignoring the fact that what was under the scanner was consensual sex between two adults, the SC cited a case where a doctor had disclosed the HIV positive nature of his patient to her fiancée. In that case, it had been correctly held that privacy was subordinate to the right of health and freedom of others. But changing the scope of Article 377 to remove consenting adults from its purview does not come under this head. Once again, if two consenting adults have any kind of sexual relations, whose health and freedom is negatively affected?

The strategy of over-reliance on judiciary can sometime be counter-productive. To cite two landmark cases, the Supreme Court did not come out with a rights perspective for the marginals. It had rejected the Narmada Bachao Andolan plea, and had acquitted the accused in the Mathura Rape Case. If we focus on the elite, if we focus on well-paid lawyers arguing in courts, we cannot expect a wider discourse of rights to be articulated or honoured. To rely on NGOs, to lobby, cannot go far when fundamental social issues are involved. And at the beginning of this essay that is what we argue. To decriminalise and recognise the equality of same sex relations is detrimental to fundamental interests of the ruling elite.

Lesbian/gay liberation is part of a broader, human liberation we are fighting for

We cannot fight for full rights for LGBTs and think that we do not need to fight for the immediate scrapping of the AFSPA. Even closer to the community itself, the ‘queer movement’ of the subcontinent has to look at the queer who are poor, who are not from the upper castes, who are non-urban. To get rights one has to fight for rights, not just lobby for rights. Lobbying can get little advantages for small segments. Full equality cannot be gained other than by mass struggles. It is when there are mass struggles that courts, legislatures, have shown themselves to be willing to be positive. This is not a call for rejecting court battles, but a call to recognise that if we want, not slight gains for small sections of LGBTs, but full equality, then we need to fight for it.

One needs to be grateful for the SC nonetheless, for it has forced into the open the issue of LGBTs. One is grateful also to the BJP, for having come out openly, showing that it is reactionary across the board. But what about the hypocrites in the mainstream parties who are today suddenly concerned about LGBT rights? Much calculation goes into their stances. The Congress has today declared it will bring legislation or push for ordinance. Where was it all these years, especially in periods when it enjoyed comfortable parliamentary majorities? Clearly, at best, the Liberals on the Right wanted to let the courts decide. To take up the cause of alternative sexualities risked losing votes, which they were not keen to do. The reason for Rahul Gandhi’s sudden concern is not far to see. The Deobandis have already declared that they are not particularly keen to take the side of Congress against the BJP. Meanwhile the Delhi elections have shown that the younger generation and the middle class generally has rubbed the Congress out. So this is a desperate gesture to try and regain some support. At the same time, it is quite a safe gesture. The government will either try for a “curative petition” (i.e., again ask the Supreme Court) or ask Parliament, a very safe option since in the current parliament the bill cannot be driven through with a party whip, as not enough parties are openly for the decriminalization of alternative sexualities, so that the congress gets left-liberal approval without antagonising its other potential voters too much.

Nor, sadly, are those whose stated agenda are for social change fully behind the struggles of the LGBTs. The AIDWA demonstrated criticising the Supreme Court. Yet it was also the same AIDWA that had criticised the World March for Women, because in the AIDWA’s opinion, the WMW was wrong in putting LGBT rights upfront along with issues like economic security. Biman Bose, the CPI(M) leader and Chairperson of the Left Front in West Bengal, was blunt. He is on record as having said that there is no hurry as there are more important issues. In other words, the Left is unable to understand that pushing LGBTs back to the closet will be worse for LGBTs from socially deprived sectors.

The women’s rights movement has also not always taken up LGBT rights sufficiently seriously, or in a sufficiently central way. One can think of moments when one has seen LGBT organisations visibly distressed by the reluctance of the sectors of the women’s movements one has participated in, to foreground LGBT rights.

The LGBT movement, likewise, has to recognise that political rights and civil liberties are indeed indivisible

If we fight for civil and political rights, we cannot afford to be sectoral. One cannot say that one is supporting the rights of people of Manipur but not someone accused of being a Maoist. Likewise, one cannot desire rights for LGBTs but say that one is unconcerned about the rights of others. It is by building popular alliances, by launching peoples’ struggles, that we can win. And we cannot fight purely on the terrain of courts.

Soma marik is a member of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha and visiting Professor at School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University