Overruling of Section 377 of IPC: Implications for Feminist Queer Politics

section377 lgbtq

September 6th, 2018 will perhaps be memorable in the history of socio-political struggles in India, not only as an achievement of LGBTIQKHA+ organising and movement, but as a legitimization of principles of democracy, the fundamental rights of equality, justice and freedom. Freedom of choice, right to form ‘companionships’, ‘be it physical, mental, sexual emotional’ (all quotes from Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India judgment) and not only through ‘union of marriage’, privacy rights, right to live with dignity and autonomy, rights of ‘selfdetermination’ are now legally acclaimed rights of the queer and trans* community. The judgment condemning societal morality and upholding Constitutional principles as the only guiding morality, draws our attention to the ‘organic’ and ‘breathing’ character of the Constitution that can only accommodate ‘plural’, ‘diverse’ and changing needs of society.

While we engage in joyful mirth over a long, arduous fight for political recognition, one also tries to understand the contours of upcoming challenges. The judgment probably heralds only for a renewed struggle against fascist, patriarchal, communal, casteist, capitalist forces. The more we realize this, the more it becomes clear that our political conscience needs to be vigilant enough, for direct violence or subtle co-option. It is these times and such a generous judgment that definitely calls for reflecting what it means for feminist queer politics.

The fundamentals of Feminist Queer Politics

When one stumbles upon the frontiers of queer and trans* groups today, whether in the wellknown educational institutes – the IITs, JNU, TISS, JU or in the cities with long histories of queer organizing, one finds it difficult to believe that there was a time when there were hardly any support group or network whether in city or suburbs. Indeed one knows well that organizing around gender-sexuality, HIV Aids have started much with the liberalization, privatization, globalisation and SAPs in 1990s. But while the developmental processes and capitalist market have its own tryst with the LGBTIQKHA+ organizing, which may unfurl in different colours in times ahead, the mushrooming of queer and trans* support groups and networks started with the aims of political recognition.

Here it becomes essential to understand the aims of political recognition. Simply taken these are demands for respect, dignity, equality and recognition that have always been the foothold of LGBTQIKHA+ politics. The stigma of being different, deviant, queer is what called forth violence, discrimination, humiliation from the private to the public. The familial realm is witness to silent violence to physical, mental, verbal, sexual torture. The social and intimate/personal spheres have been equally discriminatory, humiliating and exploitative. Ostracisation from home, forced marriage, house confinement, blackmail, murder, rape and definitely suicides abound in the history of crimes towards LGBTIQKHA+ people.

The need to form alternate emotional groups, support networks has thus been the primary call in LGBTIQKHA+ politics. These political formations have been primarily affective in nature.

Living life on the margins also made it necessary to form strong emotional bonding. In fact it is the affective, emotional nature of queer collectivities that helped people sustain themselves through crisis. It is the sense of queer camaraderie and togetherness that created space for queer families, kinships, relationalities and campaigned for recognition and rights. Queer collectivity and comradeship thus form a very important role in claiming political rights.

But what does it mean today, when we finally become legal citizens with equal rights? Do we immediately start campaigning for equal marriage rights? Does ‘gay sex’ being ‘legalised’ immediately calls for gay marriage at least as mass media portrays it? In what packages are these rights presented? While it will be easy for the State and market to launch gay marriages in future years and bolster pink economy, feminist queer politics have to be much wary of these very designs. Also, the question of civil rights itself is not so easy. When it took so long for the Supreme Court to de-criminalise homosexuality, it will take many more years to actually become equal citizens with equal rights. But then what kind of civil rights do we want? Are our dreams of equality only about securing civil rights or does it have a broader horizon?

The questions are many and there are diverse aspirations from within the queer community. But coming back to feminist queer politics the starting point of struggle has been to de-stabilise the hetero-normative, cis-gendered, brahmanical, patriarchal family. In trying to build our own lives anew outside the hetero-patriarchal system, we have created families of choice, collectives of friends, communities of care and support. Some of us live with partners, some in collective and shared living arrangements. Some of us desire to be taken care of by friends instead of intimate partner or natal family. We dream of collective sharing of property between friends or collectives, raising or/and adopting children by more than two individuals. Obviously, such desires and imaginations are not very well accepted in society.

In the future course of defining concrete rights, it will be more about mainstreamising LGBTIQKHA+ people by including them in existing laws but less of overhauling of the laws themselves. The co-option of Muslim women’s rights by Hindu right wing, with RSS declaring why India needs UCC and how that can end communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims is a glaring example of the politics of rights giving and mainstreamisation. Recognition of LGBTIQKHA+ people by the Hindu right will also be a meticulous tactic of mainstreamisation, where the queer person must become the good queer citizen, captivated and driven by market, State and fundamentalist forces, while the nation state keeps manufacturing terrorists. Thus recognition of such non-normative living arrangements, such philosophies that uproot the religious and patriarchal structures and also capitalist designs are difficult to find voice in the discourse of rights.

While deliberating on the means to exercise legal rights, the accessibility of rights become another major issue. The educated, upper caste, middle class, urban queer person have always had more access to rights and recognition. But what do these rights mean for those innumerable people for whom access to basic services of education, health are daily hurdles? What could it mean to the two girls in Uluberia (1) who encountered death (the most recent reported case of suicide in West Bengal) or to Swapna Mandol and Sucheta Mandol of Nandigram (2) ? What will it mean to Khushi (3) and many transwomen like her who cannot take legal recourse for being sexually assaulted? With the declarations of the judgment, these issues become more pertinent and immediate in feminist queer politics.

Working towards equal rights for all

Another important question that must be asked is whether the re-invoking of the Constitutional principles in the judgment apply only to queer and trans* fraternity or can the judgment be interpreted in wider manner, where the legal stance can be used to defy ‘majoritarian views’ and ‘social moralities’? At this political juncture when politics of polarization; blatant attacks on free speech, expression, dissent; surveillance on habits, lives become an everyday affair, we will actually like to push for a wider interpretation of ‘equality’, ‘autonomy’, ‘freedom of choice’, ‘expression’, ‘love’, ‘dignity’, ‘self-determination’.

Today’s political atmosphere demand for a much integrated struggle among various marginalized groups. Our feminist queer politics and comradeship beckons us for a transformative politics that upholds the visions of equality, justice, freedom not only for the LGBTIQKHA+ people but for everyone fighting for rights of ‘self-determination’, Azaadi, against dispossession of lands, forests, homes. Unless we are able to unveil the spurious promises of ‘development’, we cannot think of a more just and equitable society. These are times we need to engage in much stronger affinities with different social movements.

It is our feminist queer political imaginations that have urged many of us to participate in different social issues and movements whether it be corporate and State mediated attacks on Adivasis in Bastar, Chattisgarh; fascist aggression on workers, Dalits, activists, women; mob lynchings, sexual violence, caste based or communal violence. Today it is with our feminist queer politics that we probe whether rights for one mean rights for all… whether the judgment of 6th September can be an example of democratic and constitutional principles that promotes human rights for all. It is with such self-interrogations, hope and questions for the legal fraternity that we can embark on this new leaf of our political journey.

1 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/whats-the-fate-of-same-sex-lovers-in-times-ofhomophobia/articleshow/64359598.cms

  1. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/samesex-relationships-punished-in-life-death/755565/
    3. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2154077/india-no-country-transgender-women

Poushali Basak – An enthusiast in political activism, I have been learning and working with feminist and queer collectives/forums for the last 7 years. While working actively with Sappho for Equality (SFE), a queer feminist LBTQ collective and organization in Kolkata and Forum against Oppression of Women (FAOW), an autonomous feminist collective and campaign group in Bombay, my efforts have been to connect with different socio-political and people’s movements and develop an intersectional understanding and practice of politics. The search has also been to engage and create activist-academic exchanges that work for dialogic, intersectional spaces between different political organizings and academic pursuits. Presently I am a research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay.
Contacts E-mail: [email protected]

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