New Delhi, March 28: Providing a glimmer of hope to India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community ahead of the elections are some political parties that are batting for the rights of sexual minorities by highlighting the issue in their manifestoes.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist was the first to advocate the issue in its manifesto, soon followed by the Congress. By all indications, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is all set to champion gay rights in its soon-to-be released manifesto.
With major political parties taking up the issue of nearly 10 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population, the community members are thrilled at being mentioned in the election manifestos. They feel that the change is a step towards recognising them as a voting community.
Filmmaker Onir said: “It is very encouraging that political parties are recognising the fact that the queer community is also a significant voting community.
“Not understanding their rights is a violation of the constitution. This is an important step taken in the history of our politics,” Onir, who directed “I Am” and “My Brother Nikhil”, told IANS over the phone from Mumbai.
Gay activists feel that poll promises like decriminalising gay sex and amending section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) also reflects a change in Indian mindsets.
Under section 377, same gender sex is unnatural and is punishable with a 10-year jail term.
The community received a major setback when the Supreme Court last year struck down a 2009 Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising homosexuality. The judgement was decried by the liberal intelligentsia and the LGBT community.
In its ruling, the Delhi High Court had said that the “unnatural offences” act could no longer be used against consenting adults.
With political parties openly discussing about gay rights, activists said it is a “welcome change” and are looking forward to a progressive government.
In its manifesto, the Congress said: “The Indian National Congress will enact a law to ensure that consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex are not criminalised.”
Even the Aam Aadmi Party plans to seek an amendment in section 377, if voted to power.
Speaking to IANS, AAP policymaker Atishi Marlena said: “We have already taken a public stand on this issue and have insisted that the judgment be reversed. It is an infringement of basic human rights.”
“The judgment was not in the spirit of the freedom of expression, as it is a matter of personal choice,” she added.
Asked if it is a bold step to include the issue of decriminalising homosexuality in the party manifesto, CPI-M leader Brinda Karat said it was a civil liberties issue and the natural thing to do.
“What is there to be brave or cowardly? It is a simple democratic approach about the way one behaves. The state has no business to interfere in the way individuals lead their private lives,” Karat told IANS.
She further said that the section is an attack on civil liberties, and needs to be “done away with”.
But this symphony of way-forward thinking faces strong dissent from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had favoured the Supreme Court verdict.
Questioned about the perception that homosexuality goes against Indian culture, Karat retorted: “The caste system is a part of Indian culture, should we uphold it?”
Gautam Bhan, gay rights activist, is happy that leaders are at the forefront in changing mindsets.
“It is always good to have progressive policies. There is a shift in public opinion and political parties are now keenly considering the voices of the common man,” Bhan told IANS.
“It is now, up to us, to translate these words into action.” he added.
Tamanna Singh, a member of the LGBT community, told IANS: “It is absurd to label the community ‘criminal’ just because their preferences don’t ‘seem normal’; that too on a subject that is personal.”
Agreed gay-rights activist Shaleen Rakesh, who said that the BJP’s stand on the issue is “worrying” and “disappointing”.
“It is mind boggling to know that the BJP is unwilling to lend its support to the basic fundamental right of a human being,” Rakesh told IANS.
“It is worrying because we need to have a broad political consensus on this issue, and future leaders should come forward and provide protection to the community,” he added.
(Shlipa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, Shweta Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)