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Marriage equality proponents make case to India Supreme Court

Hearing to resume on Tuesday

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India Supreme Court (Photo by TK Kurikawa via Bigstock)

The Indian Supreme Court on April 18 started hearing a case on whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country. 

Chief Justice Dhananjay Yeshwant Chandrachud is heading a panel of five judges to decide if the time is now to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country where being LGBTQ is not a crime, but a same sex couple cannot marry. 

The marriage equality case on the first day of the hearing started with a heated exchange between Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the country’s second highest legal official, and Chandrachud. The solicitor general argued which forum should be the only constitutional forum that could adjudicate the marriage equality law. Chandrachud wanted to hear the merits of the case first. Mehta insisted on hearing the issue first.

“I am in charge. I will decide. We will hear the petitioners first,” said Chandrachud.” “I will not allow anyone to dictate how proceedings will happen in this court.”

Judges felt a little shocked when Mehta said that if that is the case, let him then take time to see if the government should participate in the hearing. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, one of the five judges who is currently hearing the validity of marriage equality in India, asked Mehta if he meant that the government would not participate in the hearing.

“None of us know what a farmer in south India thinks or a businessman thinks in North India,” said Mehta.

Chandrachud argued that the court would consider any request other than adjournment. After the heated argument in the court, senior lawyer Mukul Rohtagi opened the case for petitioners.

“We are persons of the same sex, and we have the same rights as like the heterosexual groups of the society this has been held so, and we need not reinvent the wheel and only stumbling block was Section 377, and our actions were subject to criminality, and now it is gone,” said Rohtagi, who represents the plaintiffs. “If our rights are identical and then we should enjoy full array of rights as under Articles 14, 15 and 21.”

Article 14 of the Indian constitution deals with equality before the law. 

The article says that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within Indian territory based on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 21 says no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.

Rohtagi argued that the court should not wait for legislative action when fundamental rights are involved.

“Our lives are getting passed,” said Rohtagi. “We are getting old, and we need to be respected as in a marriage. Call them queer, call them gay. People look at them differently, and that is a violation of Article 21. A violation of right to life with dignity and also violation of Article 15 when there can be no discrimination based on caste, sex.”

While arguing, Rohtagi brought up the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. to support his argument about the validity of marriage equality. When the court was hearing the validity of the marriage equality case, Chandrachud made a note to restrict the discussion on the gender-neutral interpretation and evolve a civil union concept.

Menaka Guruswamy, a senior lawyer, while arguing for the plaintiffs, said she could not designate her life partner for life insurance and that people like her would keep coming to the court to redress individual grievances.

The Washington Blade last November reported that the Life Insurance Corporation of India, a public sector insurance company under India’s Finance Ministry, had said that there is no legal bar for anyone to make their same sex partner a beneficiary in insurance policies in the name of that person.

Mehta during the middle of the hearing said that the question is not granting a socio-legal sanction. It has been clearly saying no one shall discriminate against the trans person, including unfair treatment and denial of employment, and here trans includes LGBTQ and intersex and not what is understood in the conventional sense. He also said that Hindus and Muslims will be affected, and that is why states should be heard.

Chandrachud said that the notion of biological man and biological woman is absolute. The chief justice also said that it is not a question of genitals because the Special Marriage Act’s definition of man and woman is not restricted to genitals.

The Special Marriage Act is an Indian marriage law enacted in 1954 that provides a legal framework for the marriage of people belonging to different religions or castes.

Mehta argued other laws will be redundant if the marriage equality law takes effect. He also requested the Supreme Court consult all states in India for their response as marriage laws are listed in the concurrent list of the constitution that states union governments and state governments can make laws on the subjects enlisted under the concurrent list. Marriage falls under the concurrent list of the Indian constitution.

Kapil Sibal, a senior lawyer for Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, a leading Islamic scholar organization in India, told the Supreme Court he believes in the autonomy of an individual and that everyone needs to celebrate the union of two people. But Sibal also argued that if same-sex marriage is allowed who will take care of the child? Who will be the father? Who will be the mother? Sibal said that in international examples countries reform all other laws to accommodate these things.

“I am all for same sex marriage but not in this fashion,” said Sibal. “If this is not done as a whole then let it not be done at all.”

Rohatgi said before the bench that the LGBTQ and intersex community has a fundamental right to get married and have it registered like heterogenous brethren of the society.

“I was amazed to hear that we are not equals and we need to be equal to stigmatized lot, and that is why court should step in, and that is why even after 377 judgment we are here,” said Rohatgi. “That is why state is telling us here that we are not equals.”

While highlighting equality and justice for everyone, Chandrachud, said that justice is to each of us, liberty to each of us, equality to each of us, and fraternity for all of us.

On April 19, the second day of the hearing, the central government filed a fresh application and urged the judges to take into account the state governments’ views since “marriage” is on the concurrent list. The central government in its application said that the Department of Legal Affairs has also written to all chief secretaries of state to submit their views on same-sex marriage in case notice is not issued to them. The central government also said that states should submit their views in 10 days so that center can present the case before the Supreme Court.

Rohatgi said that the LGBTQ and intersex community suffers under the majority. He said it is not the law, but a mindset that is bothering LGBTQ and intersex people in their daily life. Rohatgi also said that society accepts what the law is and highlighted to the judges that the LGBTQ and intersex community has no representation in the Parliament and that’s why the community has approached the court. Rohatgi also argued that constitutional morality would become a habit for the people when the same is upheld by the Supreme Court.

“State cannot discriminate against an individual on the basis of a characteristic over which the individual does not have control,” said Chandrachud. “When you see it is innate characteristics, then it counter urban elitist concept. Urban perhaps because more people are coming out of the closet. Government does not have any data also to show that same sex marriage is an urban elitist concept.”

On the third day of hearing, senior lawyer K.V. Vishwanathan appeared for the plaintiffs and argued that if one can be a son, daughter, sister, father-in-law, uncle, aunt and partner, then what holds the court to give marital status to the same-sex couples.

“It is only the sexual orientation which is beyond my control and it is not in conformity with heterosexual norms and thus will not accord you protection like the normal married couples,” said Vishwanathan. “Procreation is a valid defense to negate the right to marriage.”

Vishwanathan also argued that marriage is the coming together of two souls and to be told that it is to be looked at from procreation purpose is fallacious.

“What happens when there is a heterosexual couple when there is domestic violence. What kind of impact on children? So much for being heterosexual,” noted Chandrachud. “What about father coming back home drunk thrashing up the mother and asking money for alcohol? there is nothing absolute at the cost of being trolled. Answers to what we say in court is in trolls and not in court.”

The Supreme Court of the land also noted that the government does not have the data to prove that same-sex marriage is an urban elitist concept. 

“People come out of closet,” noted the Supreme Court.

The central government, in its application, had highlighted that the concept of marriage equality is an ‘urban elitist’ notion.

The hearing on LGBTQ and intersex marriage rights has attracted reactions from across the nation. 

Ranvir Shorey, a Bollywood actor, reacted to Supreme Court’s hearing and said that there is no fixed way to be a man or a woman.

“Better to think of it in terms of polarity, or scale. Those who fuss over binaries ought to remember there is an infinity between the two too,” said Shorey in a tweet. “Jurisprudence is derived from human understanding of nature’s principles. Laws exist so a society can function as a collective, while trying to preserve the rights of the individual. The more our laws move away from nature, the more at conflict we will be with ourselves.”

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has opposed the marriage equality rights petition and said the “haste” with which the Supreme Court is hearing the petitions for legal recognition of same-sex marriage is not appropriate. The organization also said that the court should have asked for the opinion of religious leaders and experts from diverse fields.

The Bar Council of India, a statutory body that regulates legal practices and education in the country, on Sunday held a joint meeting with all the state Bar Councils in the country and passed a resolution concerning marriage equality. The Bar Council of India has requested the Supreme Court to leave the issue of marriage equality for legislative consideration.

“India is one of the most socio-religiously diverse countries in the world consisting of a mosaic of beliefs. Hence, any matter which is likely to tinker with the fundamental social structure, a matter which has a far-reaching impact on our socio-cultural and religious beliefs should necessarily come through the legislative process only, the meeting unanimously opined. Any decision by the Apex Court in such a sensitive matter may prove very harmful for the future generation of our country.” the release stated.

The Bar Council of India also said that more than 99.9 percent of people in the country are opposed to the idea of marriage equality. The Supreme Court will start hearing the government’s arguments on Tuesday.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at mohitk@opiniondaily.news. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Schools in India’s Kerala state adopt gender-neutral curricula

Initiative encourages administrators to change uniform policies

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A page from the Kerala state government’s new textbooks that introduces non-traditional gender roles to students. (Photo courtesy of Kerala State General Education Minister V. Sivankutty’s Facebook page)

When schools in India’s Kerala state reopened on June 3 after a long summer break, students walked into classrooms with the usual excitement. This year, however, they were greeted with a surprising and groundbreaking change. The textbooks they received were unlike any they had seen before — filled with gender-neutral images and instructions.

The initiative, driven by the state’s commitment to fostering equality from a young age, aimed to break down traditional gender roles and promote inclusivity. Students found pictures of boys and girls engaging in various activities without gender-specific expectations.

One of the images showed the father grating coconut in the kitchen while his wife cooked food. Another picture showed the father cooking food for his daughter.

In an unprecedented move, some schools in Kerala have committed to gender neutrality beyond textbooks, introducing gender-neutral uniforms. This change marks a significant departure from the traditional Indian school uniform, where boys typically wear shirts and pants, and girls don skirts, often in different colors. Many schools in Kerala have introduced the same school uniform for all students including shirts and knee-length pants.

More than 12 schools in Kerala have shifted to gender-neutral dresses so far. While there are a total of 4,504 government-run schools in Kerala, the Kerala Child Rights Commission last year decided to remove the use of words like “sir” and “madam” for teachers and instead encouraged to use of universal terms like “teacher” on school premises, but the Department of General Education, a state government body that overseas education in schools, refrained from any changes.

The National Council of Education Research and Training, a government-autonomous body of India’s Education Ministry, in 2023 introduced a manual that directs schools to implement transgender-inclusive curricula, safe washrooms, and gender-neutral dress for students to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence.

The Mumbai-based Aditya Birla World Academy, a private international school, in 2022 adopted gender-neutral uniforms and language in its 138 branches across the country. The school replaced “ladies” and “gentlemen” and other gender-specific words with “dear guests” or “hello everyone.” The school sent an email to parents that told them how to reduce gender differentiation in uniforms so students of various genders and those who are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender can feel safe discovering and expressing themselves at the school.

The Aditya Birla World Academy has also established the Rainbow Club, an LGBTQ support group led by students and guided by teachers, to create an environment of activism in the classroom, shifted to allow students to choose the length of their hair as long as it is neatly tied up, along with other activities that include workshops with teachers and parents under the initiative of “move away from the cis heteronormative environment in the education world.”

While talking to the Washington Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said children should be allowed to dress the way they want. He also said the idea of uniforms in schools is that a student should feel included, regardless of what strata of society to which they belong.

“Adding gender-neutrality to uniforms would only extend the whole purpose of the uniforms,” said Iyer. “It should be appreciated by all as there is no question of any debate here. What should be debated is that some people are forced to wear what is not part of their gender identity.”

Iyer told the Blade there should not be any gender assigned to clothes. He said uniforms should be based on comfort and not based on gender.

Indrani Chakraborty, a mother of a trans child and an LGBTQ activist based in northeast India, told the Blade the Kerala government’s decision to implement gender-neutral uniforms is welcome. She said her organization, Annajoree, is also trying to sensitize people on the same issue in Assam state.

“We are promoting safe-spaces in schools in Assam so that kids can complete their basic education without any mental harassment at school,” said Chakraborty. “Kerala is doing great work, it’s a great initiative and everyone should come forward to support it. It should be everywhere in our country.”

Indrani Chakraborty (Photo courtesy of Indrani Chakraborty)

She also told the Blade that schools not sensitized to LGBTQ issues creates a fear of bullying. Students, according to Chakraborty, in particular face bullying and they are not allowed to join classes in their preferred uniforms and do not have access to gender-neutral bathrooms. 

She has started an initiative called the “No More Holding Pee Initiative” in schools.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Fewer Indian MPs are ‘vocal’ on LGBTQ issues

Parties backed relationship recognition, trans rights ahead of general election

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Meera Pradhan is a transgender politician from Odisha state. (Photo courtesy of Meera Pradhan)

The Indian LGBTQ community is gradually gaining momentum in their fight for rights; bolstered by increasing support from courts, the public, NGOs, and even some politicians. 

According to Pinklist India’s 2024 report, which archives politicians supporting LGBTQ rights, only 108 MPs have been vocal on LGBTQ issues, a notable decline from the 161 MPs in the previous parliament. In this context, “vocal” means that politicians have made public statements on LGBTQ issues, whether positive, negative, or controversial.

As India prepared for the 2024 general election, various political parties included LGBTQ concerns in their platforms. 

The Indian National Congress, for example, has promised to introduce a bill that would recognize civil unions for LGBTQ couples after wide consultation. Similarly, the Communist Party of India has pledged several commitments, including amending the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 to address community concerns and ensure legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples similar to marriage.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and its coalition partners, meanwhile, had promised in their campaign platform to include the transgender community in the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, a national health insurance program for low-income citizens. The BJP also pledged to incorporate the trans community into the Garima Greh program, which provides shelter, food, medical care, and recreational facilities for destitute and abandoned trans people.

No official records exist on the LGBTQ population in India, but the 2012 Census estimated it at 2.5 million. Population data on LGBTQ people is scarce, with the government only tracking those who identify as “third gender” or “transgender” and are registered.

Only a few LGBTQ candidates ran in this year’s general election, with the majority of them withdrawing. Of the three candidates who ran, none secured a sixth of the total valid votes, resulting in all of them losing their deposits.

Election Commission of India (ECI) data indicates there are 48,000 registered trans voters. Only 20 percent of them participated in the general election.

Pinklist India data in 2020 revealed that only 27.8 percent of 543 MPs had addressed LGBTQ issues in their political careers. The highest number of these MPs belonged to the Nationalist Congress Party, the Indian National Congress, and the Communist Party of India. Pinklist India also created interactive tiles on India’s map, titled “State of QUnion,” recording statements on LGBTQ issues made by each MP.

Data from 2020 offers deeper insights into how politicians’ stances on LGBTQ issues evolve after joining a particular party. 

Jothimani Sennimalai, an Indian National Congress MP from Karur, Tamil Nadu, for example, has consistently supported queer issues both before and after entering politics. Conversely, Bengaluru South BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, who previously supported marriage equality, has remained silent on the issue since his election. The Washington Blade reached out to Surya multiple times for an interview, but received no response.

Interestingly, previous data revealed a curious trend among many MPs. 

Although they were vocal about trans issues outside parliament, they never engaged in debates on trans laws within it. Their silence in parliamentary chambers contrasted sharply with their public statements, painting a complex picture of political advocacy.

The Blade uncovered a striking disparity: Despite political parties pledging inclusion of the LGBTQ community in their election platforms, no major politicians addressed LGBTQ concerns during their campaign rallies. It was as if these promises, vibrant on paper, vanished into thin air when it came time to speak on the campaign trail.

The Blade reached out to Meera Parida, a trans politician from Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal, for her thoughts on the issue. 

“It is very sad that it has happened,” she said with a mix of disappointment and resolve. 

Parida lamented that during the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, only regional parties stood in support of the bill, highlighting a gap in broader political commitment.

“Unfortunately, we have to meet and sensitize new parliamentarians about the issue,” said Parida. “It is very sad that those leaders and members of Parliament are doing this who are supposed to raise voices for everyone including LGBTQ people of the country. We say that India is the world’s biggest democracy, we talk about equality, we talk about Sabka Sath Sabka Vikash (inclusion and development for all, a slogan Modi used during the election campaign), so does LGBTQ people not come under ‘all’? If parliamentarians behave like this, what will be the impact on the society?”

She raised a question stating that LGBTQ people are born naturally just like males or females, so why there is so much stigma regarding the community? Parida told the Blade that despite so many Supreme Court rulings and parties including LGBTQ issues in their election platforms, not a single party gave the opportunity to LGBTQ people to fight the election from the party platform.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Transgender Indian parliamentary candidate vows to continue fight for equality

Rajan Singh, 26, is from New Delhi

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Rajan Singh ran for India's parliament (Photo courtesy of Rajan Singh)

The storm that was India’s general elections has finally settled, leaving behind a landscape transformed by democratic choice. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clinched a decisive victory with a majority in parliament with 293 seats. The daily hum of life is returning to normal as the country resumes its rhythm amid the sweltering heat of summer.

Beneath the surface of political triumph and routine, however, there lies an overlooked narrative: The story of the transgender community. In the vibrant tapestry of this election, trans people remained a subtle but significant thread. A few trans people for the first time boldly stepped into the political arena, running for office and asserting their right to representation.

Rajan Singh, 26, was the youngest trans candidate.

She hails from New Delhi, the bustling heart of the nation. Singh secured 300 votes and lost the election, but as the first and youngest independent candidate to run in the recent general elections, her story is one of ambition and audacity. In a political landscape dominated by well-established parties and seasoned politicians, Singh’s decision to enter the fray as an independent was both bold and inspiring.

With her soft and humble voice, Singh told the Washington Blade that even after 75 years of independence, India still lacks even 75 public restrooms dedicated to the trans community. She highlighted a stark reality: There is no platform available for trans people who want to raise their voice on important issues.

Singh expressed her frustration and disappointment, pointing out the irony in India’s highly regarded constitution. 

“Our constitution begins with ‘We, the people of India,'” she said, “Yet in these 75 years, that ‘we’ has never truly included us.” Her words shed light on the ongoing struggle for recognition and equality faced by the trans community in a country that prides itself on its democratic values and inclusive ethos.

“That was the main reason I decided to fight in the 2024 general election,” said Singh. “I am the first, youngest candidate from India’s capital, New Delhi. When I was born in 1997, my identity was male. In 2022, the government certificate indicated I was transgender, and in 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a certificate stating me as third gender. When I apply for a government job, I become ‘others.’ so one person has four identities. Most strikingly all these identities are not mine. I identify as a trans woman and no one recognizes my feelings and identity.”

Singh told the Blade that when she filed her nomination for the election, her primary goal was to bring the real identity of the trans community to the center stage of the country. She explained her candidacy was a means to breathe life into the identity of her community, asserting that if people had acknowledged the trans community’s presence over the past 75 years, they would have been granted the same rights as other citizens.

With a voice tinged with pain, Singh told the Blade that if the trans community had been truly recognized as alive, there would have been moments when people saw the community speaking out. 

“There would have been a time when we had a leader to represent us, a chief minister, and even a prime minister,” she said. “But there is no one for the transgender community.”

During her interview with the Blade, Singh shared a slogan she coined for her election campaign: “Sauchalay se Sansad Tak” or “From the toilet to parliament.” This slogan encapsulated her mission to elevate the trans community from the margins of society to the heart of the nation’s decision-making process.

Singh told the Blade only a few trans people voted in the last election. However, this time, however, 228 trans individuals cast their votes in Delhi, a significant increase fueled by the community’s belief that someone was finally standing up for them.

“I was manhandled and threatened on the streets just for announcing my candidacy in the 2024 General Elections,” said Singh. “I was told ‘Chakka’ (a slang word for trans people), I was told how could we fight in election. When I went to the cops to file a First Information Report, they did not file my report. On April 29, Delhi High Court provided me heavy police protection and with that I went to file my nomination for election. If High Court would not have given me the police protection, I would not have been able to file my nomination.”

She told the Blade that society has been conditioned to view the trans community as only beggars and prostitutes, a misconception that is far from the truth. Singh emphasized these stereotypes have long overshadowed the diverse and significant contributions of trans people. Her campaign sought to challenge these harmful narratives and showcase the true potential and worth of the trans community. 

While talking to the Blade, Singh said India’s trans community has not seen much progress in the last 75 years. She acknowledged Modi has taken some steps for the community, notably with the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, which has increased awareness among ordinary citizens.

Singh, however, emphasized these efforts are not enough and much more work needs to be done. With great hope and determination, she called on the prime minister to establish a National Transgender Commission. This, she argued, would provide the necessary platform and resources to address the ongoing challenges faced by the trans community, ensuring their rights and dignity are fully protected and promoted.

“The world has seen for the first time in the last 75 years, that during the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony this year three transgender people were invited,” said Rajan. “I was one of them.”

With immense pride and positivity, Singh stated this is not a loss for her or the community. She views it as a significant victory. For the first time, the trans community voted for one of their own. It marked the historic moment when a trans individual’s name appeared on the Electronic Voting Machine, an integral part of India’s voting system. This election symbolized a newfound self-respect and empowerment, as members of the trans community proudly pressed the button on the EVM, voting for representation and a brighter future.

“We will prepare and fight for the establishment of National Transgender Commission in the country,” said Singh. “We will pressure those political parties who will support the creation of the National Transgender Commission and basic services for the community, we will support them. I will again fight the election.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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