In celebration of pride month, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, in association with Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), initiated An Online International Summer School Program | A Five-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India.
The sessions were commemorated by Samriddhi, a researcher at IMPRI, who welcomed and introduced the eminent speakers for the event. The course spread over five-consecutive days, introduced the participants to deconstructing the dichotomies that exist within the understanding of sexuality and gender and enlightened the participants with the nuances of sexuality, gender and queer identity issues and rights in India. It initiated a dialogue extending to include health disparities, exacerbating global inequalities in this domain, and questions of inclusivity and legalization being dealt with in recognition of their rights.
DAY 1 | 19th of June 2023 | Theme for Day 1: History & Political Dimensions
Professor Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI, delivered a well-articulated introduction to June, designated as Pride Month, or LGBTQIA+ History Month. Acknowledging their community struggle, Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969, a watershed event that resulted in a series of liberation protests led by the gay community at Stonewall, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City, United States of America.
As the Chair, she discussed how the term ‘sexuality’ and its various meanings undermine conventional frameworks surrounding sexual identity and politics while learning about gender and sexuality.
The first speaker, Mx. Maya Agarwal, Co-founder of Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation, commenced the discussion by delivering a presentation on the Historical Aspects of Trans Lives in India; she profiled queer rights issues in the historical context, deconstructed mythological Transgender figures through a gender lens, showed the roots of criminalization of transgender communities during the colonial rule by the British regime by bringing them under the purview of Habitual Offense Act.
She put forward her views on gender inclusivity in Hinduism (Shikhandi’s role in Mahabharat and transgender persons walking with Rama-Sita-Laxman ji when they left Ayushya in Ramayana) and Jainism. She explained the terms ‘Eunuchs’ used by the British rulers, Hijras (followers of Bahuchara mata) and Jogtas (disciples of Yellama). Her discussion on gender (linked with the mind) and fluidity in sexuality (associated with the heart) was most illuminating, for which 32 questions were asked by the participants.
To read more on Session 1 of Day 1: click here
Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI, spoke on Body Normativity, gender stereotypes, patriarchy & male domination, varied forms of masculinities, femininities and queer gender spectrum.
To read more on Session 2 of Day 1: click here
Dr Kaustav Padmapati, Assistant Professor (Senior Scale) at School of Modern Media, UPES, Dehradun India, analyzed queer identity in the context of the Northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram and highlighted nuances of different socio-cultural- historical trajectories and showed videos of the rich legacy of gender inclusivity. He takes about the double Marginalities of ethnic and queer identities for the Northeastern LGBTQIA+ communities and classifies them as Subalterns. He also showed pictures and videos about the important contribution of the queer movement in the fields of education, theatre, sports, cinema and folk tradition.
To read more on Session 3 of Day 1: click here
Mx. Sonal Giani, a senior technical advisor (Diversity and Inclusion – South Asia region) at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), New Delhi, provided insightful personal journey’s contours of ups and downs, disabling and enabling environment in the school, college, workplace and founding institutions such as Yariyan and LBTQIA+ Persons. She provided an illuminating account of the transformative change from Shame to Pride.
To read more on Session 4 of Day 1: click here
The participants inundated the speakers with their questions, and all four speakers patiently responded; as a result, the session exceeded its time limit by 90 minutes. At the same time, I must praise their commitment to be glued to the zoom screen from 6 pm to 10 pm.
Day 2 | 20th of June 2023 | Theme for Day 2: Queer Politics in Contemporary Political Atmosphere
Rituparna Neog, the founder and director of Akam Foundation, started with an illuminating and enchanting narrative of building queer movement in rural and small-town spaces. The visionary organizer par excellence shared the personal journey of education, reaching out, and finding humane and creative solutions to multifaceted problems encountered by the queer community in Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Guwahati, and rural areas of Assam were awe-inspiring.
Profile of processes involved in organizing PRIDE rallies and gender diversity in educational institutions was really energy sing. She found the support of feminists very important in the queer movement in Assam and stated that working with the community is important even when some people may have different opinions, ‘cancel culture’ does not help the queer movement. In her story, there were many parallels with the feminist movement in India during the 1980s.
To read more on Session 1 of Day 2: click here
Dr Aqsa Shaikh, Associate Professor of community management at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, New Delhi, demystified the health, well-being and existential concerns of transgender persons and highlighted the need for queer-responsive medical services. Statistical profiles of the queer Community in terms of education, physical and mental health needs, and suicide were eye-opening. Abusive families, insensitive doctors, exclusionary state policies, and societal negligence result in self-discrimination, self-stigma and social isolation.
Dr Shaikh’s personal experience as a medical practitioner of witnessing painful gynaecological problems, bodily injuries, consequences of botched operations of gender-affirming surgeries, hormonal treatment, breast and uterus implants, and HIV-AIDS in the context of stigma and secrecy were heartbreaking. She recommended that there is an urgent need to include queer community’s health concerns in the curricula of nursing, medical, psychology and paraprofessional health education based on ground-level research.
To read more on Session 2 of Day 2: click here
Aroh Akunth, a writer and performer, discusses anti-caste theories on gender equity, shared Dalit queer practice in the context of complex, compounded and cutting across space and time INEQUALITY and DISCRIMINATORY treatment faced by Dalits in general and Dalit Queer in particular. They quoted theoretical insights of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Yashika Dutta, Dhrubjyoti, Akhil Kant, Dhiren, Shailaja and several auto ethnographic writings and oral histories to portray the lived reality of homelessness, hunger, stateless, and joblessness faced by Dalit queer persons. They have started Dalit Archives that showed that in all socio-cultural-political processes, trans-people were there, but they were invisibilised, and were not given representation and voice.
The erudite orator told the story of the Swabhiman Yatra of the queer movement in Hyderabad, showed the importance of cultural analysis and psychoanalysis as an important intellectual tool to understand social identities and differential entitlements and supported the contribution of affirmative actions by the state, such reservation policy, protective measures such as the SC- ST Anti Atrocities Act and budgetary allocations under Schedule Caste Plan and Tribal Sub Plan.
To read more on Session 3 of Day 2: click here
The soul-stirring presentation of Vikramaditya Sahai, a respected teacher and researcher from the Centre for Law and Policy Research, New Delhi, brought in important dimensions of the colonial legacy of Victorian stigmatization and brutalization of transgender persons who were classified as EUNUCHs, HIJARAs, habitual criminals. Sahai averred that the same attitudes of deeply criminalizing queer communities continue till the contemporary period. Such prejudicial attitudes are overtly embedded in the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act (2019) and covertly embedded in the NALSA judgement of the Supreme Court of India.
To read more on Session 4 of Day 4: click here
All four speakers were on the same wavelength of sensitivity and intellectual legacy. The well-informed participants asked serious questions, and the speakers’ answers were supported by case studies, pieces of evidence, data and relevant references.
Day 3 | 21st of June 2023 | Theme for Day 3: Social & Health Dimensions
Prof. Mala Ramanathan, Professor, AMCHSS, SCTIMST & Working, Editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, problematized conceptual and operational issues in the visibility of Queer population in statistics, indicators and datasets. She stated that without enumerating the whole spectrum of the queer community, their needs and demands would not figure in the policies, programmes and schemes for social security and protection. She highlighted that data collection should be governed by inclusiveness, precision, autonomy, right to privacy, confidentiality, no identifiers and parsimony.
To read more on Session 1 of Day 3: click here
Prof. Pushpesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, made a theoretically dense and historically rooted and chronologically ordered narrative encompassing the last two centuries of existential struggles of LGBTQIA communities and their incarceration since the 19th-century British rule, in the USSR, in the USA during the cold war period. He cited works of queer theorists of new left and cultural studies moorings, such as Michael Foucault, Gayle Rubin, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, David Halperin, and Rosemary Hennessy.
He also reflected on Alexandra Kollontai’s writings and Heidy Hartmann’s (1979) paper, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union”. He critiqued elitism and commercialization of Queer Culture in the neoliberal capitalist system of the 21st century that leaves out intersectionally marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, Black, Dalit and persons with disabilities within the Queer communities.
To read more on Session 2 of Day 3: click here
Dr Adhiraj Parthasarathy, an Independent Policy Consultant, discussed in great detail issues in Queer mental healthcare with a special focus on ageing, substance abuse and access to education, health, employment and cultural resources. He quoted the study of Shakuntala Devi conducted during the 1970s of closeted cis gay men who told her in the interview that without marriage, there won’t be any social status for gay men. The same attitude continues till now, even among the psychiatrists who treat SMM and MSM persons.
He joined that Mental Health Act 2017 is queer-inclusive, but it is not implemented in most of the states in India, and hence awareness generation about Queer mental health concerns is extremely important.
To read more on Session 3 of Day 3: click here
Prof. Vina Vaswani, Director, Centre for Ethics, and Professor, Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Yenepoya (Deemed to be) University, Mangalore, presented a highly engaging and ethically charged presentation was on the need for transformation from HOMO ECONOMICUS to HOMO ETHICUS. She said that discrimination, stigma, negative behaviour and dehumanizing attitudes towards transgender persons are ‘learned behaviour’ due to gender stereotypes that perpetuate gender binary and heteronormativity. Crimes against queer community can be stopped by the assertion of human rights agenda in practice and ethics in research guided by the inclusiveness of queer gender spectrum.
To read more on Session 4 of Day 3: click here
All four resource persons spoke with passion and commitment to the cause of transcending gender binaries.
Day 4 | 22nd of June 2023 | Theme for Day 4: Legal & Rights Dimensions
In the beginning, the participants shared their reflections on the previous 12 sessions, their own thought processes and lived experiences with regard to Queer rights.
Dr Prateeti Barman, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Assam Downtown University, Guwahati, Assam, presented the findings and analysis of her research on “Queer Identity and Rights: Experiences from Assam”. She began with the narration of a great gender-inclusive socio-cultural and historical legacy of Assam, including in Jatra- a mobile theatre, the traditional drama started in the 16th century-Shrimant Shakar Deva in which men take the role of women. In 2014, Assam had the first queer Pride Walk.
All Assam Transgender Association works with the state government on safe sex, and HIV-AIDS. She also reported that there are NGOs providing psychosocial help to the transgender community when they are in distress. From the interior parts of Assam, the young Queer persons move to metros-bigger cities due to rejection and, after 2-3 decades, come back to their native place when they are in their 40s and 50s. Family Rejection, discrimination, traumatizing experiences, violence by intimate partners, and the police make their lives full of misery.
Queer persons are staying on the outskirts of the city. Those who took part in her study stated that child sexual abuse and rape have never been addressed; they never opened up, and their healing process never took place; as a result face mental health issues such as depression and suicidal tendencies. She also explained the Theory of Minority Stress Situation and said that in her study, gay men’s social location, risky situation, trust issues, stress, and helplessness were marked features of their everyday experiences in the context of the volatile issue of insurgency and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
As per the Official records, there are 11370 transgender persons in Assam with voter cards, but most of them do not have other documents required for their citizenship rights. She ended with a distressing fact of silence in academia with respect to developmental needs, human rights and the inclusion of the transgender community in the mainstream of society.
To read more on Session 1 of Day 4: click here
Harish Iyer (He/She), Head DE&I, Axis Bank; Equal Rights Activist spoke on “Queer Rights at the Workplace”. Harishji stated that there is no change without friction, and he has to fight for common challenges such as restrooms for transpeople and at times have to repurpose existing rest room to “All people rest room” and insist that gender variant person’s choice will come first. The 2nd controversial issue is the Dress code policy that needs to be gender fluid and gender non-conforming. Grounding policies that every organisation has must transcend the “Gender & Sexuality framework” so that intersex persons/employees are not excluded. Harishji emphasized the Mandate for all institutions to put in place,
- An overarching Human rights Policy with Email ID for communication. It should cover employees, vendors, contractual workers
- DEI Policy-Category: Hiring drive-Diversity and Access
- Code of Conduct with regards to Queer persons
- POSH Committee: Repurpose ICC: External Member
Pride ERG groups must be responsive to intersectional elements such as Bisexual, pansexual and REPURPOSE speakers. Selective omission must be opposed. Systemic challenges can come only with the representation of queer employees in the cafeteria committee, Internal complaints committee, and Sports Committee. Only sensitization does not cure curiosity, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We need to reach out to the last leg of the person. E.g. security staff. We need to walk an extra mile. Any kind of opposition & conflict should not be seen as trouble. It makes us better. Harishji concluded his speech by affirming that with regard to Policy & Practice, the onus of inclusion lies on those who are included, not those who are excluded.
Read more on Session 2 of Day 4: click here
Rituparna Borah (She/Her), co-founder and director of Nazariya, spoke on “Linkages of Sexuality and Gender with Other Developmental Issues: Concepts of Sexual Norms and Sexual Hierarchy” and began with a statement that gender is more than gender identity; it is about norms. Sexuality is more than sexual orientation/ desire; it is about the sexual norms, and the way to carry your body. She showed connections between gender, sexuality and development and said that invisibilisation of lesbian and queer women is huge.
Trans persons face poverty because they do not get an education or employment. Transmen face natal family violence and are subjected to Conversion Therapy. Lesbian women face the aversion of gynaecologists. Heteronormative families, the Education system and society at large stigmatize and bully queer people; as a result, they live in poverty. Article 15: Fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of India, their rights to livelihood, health, workplace, education, and business have to be safeguarded. She explained Gayle Rubin’s diagram on Sexual hierarchy: based on the division of the Charmed Circle that ensures Economic and social benefits and The Outer Limits, which makes people live under deprivation, rejection, guilt, and incarceration. Hence, to combat these evils, solidarity and struggle are extremely important.
To read more on Session 3 of Day 4: click here
Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, LGBT rights activist and co-founder of Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS), made a passionate speech on “Transgender & Horizontal Reservation, Litigation and Advocacy in India” by analysing Saurabh Yadav versus State of UP (Dec. 2020)”, Indra Sani versus Union of India (1992), Tanushree versus the state of Telangana, Sharada versus Member Secretary, TN Recruitment Board: Madras High Court, Interim orders of the government of Telangana with regards to the recruitment of Police constable in May 2022.
Mogli ji brought to the fore unethical ramification for transgender applicants who were made to compete with cis men in recruitment, reported that Dr Ruth John Paul Koyyala was turned away by 15 hospitals in Hyderabad after graduation in 2018. He strongly supported horizontal reservations for transgender persons in the same manner as Article 15 (3), which refers to SC, ST, and socially educationally backward classes, BC, and MBC. Mogli ji said that the transgender group is not from one caste group, caste identities socially and educationally backward classes and referred to the flawed judgment of Tamilnadu that ignored GO on Multiple marginalisations among transgender persons with diverse caste backgrounds.
Mogliji concluded by stating that India’s queer community is fighting to realise its civil rights on employment and education fronts. The Indian Supreme Court has begun hearing petitions on “same-sex marriage” on the ground of marriage equality from several petitioners from the transgender community. The struggle goes on, and solidarity by all is the need for the hour.
To read more on Session 4 of Day 4: click here
The session was concluded by Professor Vibhuti Patel, who further questioned the methods of incarceration and how one may combat the discrimination both legally and morally faced within the healthcare sector. The consensus was achieved that a more equitable and fairer environment can only be achieved with greater sensitisation and acceptance amongst doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. A further discussion took place about the harassment and violence faced by people within their own families and how people might feel indebted to their families, so much so that they don’t raise their voices for their own rights.
The flow of subject matter and rich evidence-based content of all four resource persons kept the participants’ engagement intact for 4 hours (from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) as it happened even in the previous three days.
Day 5 | 23rd of June 2023 | Theme for Day 5: Solidarity & Cultural Dimensions
Dr Debolina Dey, Assistant Professor at Ramjas College, University of Delhi, conducted a session on the final day, exploring themes of the vagabond, happy friendship, family, and queerness. Her presentation provided valuable insights into the complexities surrounding these concepts; it began with a statement that Queerness is a journey. Can we create a vocabulary of Queerness, a rapidly growing and changing organism? Friendship as a way of Life. There is no defined way of doing friendship.
While interrogating Queerness, we should understand that homosexuality is not queerness. Identity formation is discursive. There is no defined way of being queer. This deliberation is a playful self-reflection. She quoted bell hooks, Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body, asking, “Is it possible to categorize queer spectrum?” The discourse on Gender and sexuality is pushing the boundaries of desire.
How does the noun “queer” turns into the adjective “queer” in a commonsensical way of life. During the 1980s, the law and language used the term ‘homosexuality’ to categorise LGB community. In history, they were described as the vagabond, vagrant, destitute, tramps, unsettled poor, and strollers. She deconstructed queer phenomenology of ‘slant wiseness’ by showing the roundness of O and roundness with the slight tangent of Q.
She presented a vivid profile of the brutalization of non-heteronormative people by Laws against sodomy (1533), vagrancy (1536) by Henry VIII, vagabond (1834) and a range of new poor laws that pathologized them as idle and unfit for the industrial economy. She explained the capitalist economic logic of demand and supply where friendship, time, and family become part of an economic model that subserves the interest of industrial profit and classifies the poor as contagious, not as a metaphor.
It is the performative nature of the word, and a noun becomes an adjective, and the marginalized population gets associated with the idea of disease.
In 1898, the drive against prostitution and gay sex as ‘ungovernable children’ had this element. She mentioned the gender and sexuality studies of Janet R. Jacobson and Justice Chandrachud’s speeches on same-sex relationships. She concluded with a submission that we need to build bridges with historical characters and invent one’s own metaphors.
To read more on Session 1 of Day 5: click here
Dr Debashish Mitra, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts, The ICFAI University, Tripura, spoke on “Unlearning Gender: Masculinities and Queer Space in India and Beyond Masculinity- an interdisciplinary field of study”. He started by debunking second-wave feminism: “Sex is biological, gender is social.” And challenged the Hermeneutics (the theory and methodology of interpretation) of second-wave feminism and advocated for a new way of looking at how masculinities operated in the past. He gave examples from Mahabharat’s hero, Arjun, as Brihannala, Tantrism, Padmapurana in which non-heterosexual encounters are reported.
While talking about identity politics, he profiled the journey from universal to separatist trends in the feminist movement. This capitulation of identity politics also gave rise to masculinity studies which are extended versions of certain feminist views. He questioned the binary of stability and instability and quoted R.W. Connel’s (1995) characterisation of MASCULINITIES and classification in terms of Hegemonic, complicit, subordinate, marginalised masculinities.
While talking about Epistemology of the Closet (1990) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, he mentioned the toxicity of proscriptive mainstream lesbian women and averred that any gender could be toxic as long as gender is prescriptive. He spoke of deceptive inclusivity, mutant masculinity, personal grooming, the fashion industry, the construction of sexuality and performative tropes. He gave a moving account of solidarity marches by queer communities with the slogan, ‘All Black lives matter’.
He reflected on Farahani, Suruchi Thapar, and Evelyn Harris in the context of exoticization of the other, valorization of the white body, matrix of closet experience, passing in and out of the heterosexual world and homosexual intimacies, changing their identities for respectability, playing a safe game of fluidity. He concluded by stating that bisexuality is not a valid phase and showed concern for the deep-seated erosion of queer value. He gave an example of Sara Ahmed’s lived experience of navigating a patriarchal toxic world.
Read more on Session 2 of Day 5: click here
Prof. Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind, Assistant Professor, Centre for Disasters and Development, Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, started her session on “Experiences of Queer Community in Conflict Situation and Disasters” with a statement that state is the major responder at the time of disaster.
Queer communities’ encounter with the state is very complex and marked by sites of injustice. It is important to locate queer identity in disaster space, heterogeneity and diversity of experiences and claims you can make on the state based on empirical evidence. To decriminalize queer persons, we need to go beyond the binary of criminal and citizen and understand that disaster experiences are amplified and magnified among the queer communities who need daily support when their livelihoods, assets, resource, and savings are wiped out.
She demanded a paradigm shift from the natural science concept of disasters to the social science concept of disaster guided by an intersectional perspective inclusive of the Dalit sociality state-citizen relationship of differential vulnerability at play. She debunked the popular notion of disaster as the great equalizer and said that some are insulated from the effects of calamities based on their social location of gender, race, ethnicity, and queerness.
Due to social stigma, recovery and reconstruction are an exceptional burden on the queer community. When queer people are evacuated from disaster zone to shelter homes governed by binary, heteronormative familial groups, they are persecuted and tortured. When it comes to registration and tracing for mitigation measures, queer people get excluded as rules are decided by a heteropatriarchal lens.
There are no guidelines about transgender and intersex groups in NDMA. She gave examples of the predicament of queer community when the warning system for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 never reached them as they were on the outskirts of the city. In recovery, financial assistance, and restoration of public assets, queer people were not included as they were not classified as ‘breadwinners’.
Policy vacuum in the Disaster management cycle, faith-based organizations blame queer communities for bringing calamity, incidences of corrective rape by bisexual men, and being forced to pay in sex for food have been horrifying consequences of the cultural baggage. The hetero-normative bias of state and non-state institutions that routinely exclude queer communities in housing results in Queer ‘domicide’.
During the European Heatwave, energy poor queer community suffered the most. Their private spaces- physical and emotional sites lovingly created by LGBT communities were not included in documentation as evacuees were classified as men and women. Transitioning queer needed HRT and other daily medical care gets disrupted in a disaster context. Everyday sociality of abuse, Lacuna in research with qualitative experiences of gays and lesbians during the war between Russia and Ukraine have been reported by the human rights organizations.
Gender markers versus present gender identities, multi-dimensional support for economic security, and livelihood need to be treated seriously. During the cyclone in Orrisa, shelter homes became hotbeds of traffickers, and food-insecure groups became particularly vulnerable. She concluded by asking in canonical literature on Disaster Risk Reduction how to make ‘queer’ semantically viable in policy? How to address the research vacuum?
To read more on Session 3 of Day 5: click here
The concluding session by Maya Awasthy Ji was on public policy and laws concerning the queer community. Mayaji explained Criminal Tribal Act (1871) that demanded ‘from and to movement’ of the transgender persons to be registered; Mumbai Beggary Prohibition Act (1959) being replaced by the new law, Habitual Offender Act (1959), Illyas And Ors. vs Badshah Alias Kamla(18 September 1989); National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014), 2018: Decriminalisation of beggary, Private Member Bill in Rajyasabha by Tiruchi Siva of Kerala introduced in the parliament (2019), The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act (2019) and The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020.
Read more on Session 4 of Day 5: click here
Every lecture was followed by an interactive question and answer session, facilitating a more nuanced understanding of the topics covered. The participants found all 20 sessions riveting, erudite, scholarly, wonderful, amazing, mind-blowing, soothing, and mesmerizing.
The above write-up and its editing are credited to Prof Vibhuti Patel (Distinguished Sr. Fellow, IMPRI), )Samriddhi Sharma (Asst Editor, IMPRI) & Vithita Jha (Editorial Associate, IMPRI)