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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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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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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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Narendra Modi to form coalition government after party wins India election

LGBTQ issues largely absent from campaign

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

In a vibrant democracy like India, the anticipation surrounding election results is always palpable.

On Tuesday, the stakes were incredibly high, especially for the LGBTQ community. The air was thick with suspense, and social media platforms buzzed with the anxiety and hopes of millions. As the night wore on, discussions flourished, emotions ran high, and the country collectively held its breath. The results, which trickled in at their own unhurried pace, promised to shape the future landscape of India’s social and political climate.

The Election Commission on Tuesday announced the much-awaited results.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by its charismatic leaders, not only retained power but also strengthened its position with a clear majority. With 293 seats, the coalition comfortably surpassed the majority mark, ensuring a third consecutive term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Despite supporters’ hopes and high expectations for a resounding victory, the election results did not fully meet their aspirations. This sense of disappointment was palpable, especially considering the extensive campaigns and efforts made ahead the elections.

All the regional and national parties came together, forming the formidable Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance to challenge the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance. This INDIA alliance, a vibrant coalition of 34 parties, stood united, mostly in opposition to Modi’s policies and leadership.

The BJP has recently articulated its position on LGBTQ rights in India.

The government’s opposition to marriage equality in the Supreme Court highlighted their stance against nuptials for same-sex couples. By acknowledging the commitment made by the Supreme Court on issues faced by the LGBTQ community, however, the government did establish a dedicated committee to address them.

This committee, formed in April and chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, aims to address critical concerns that include healthcare access, pension entitlements, and property rights for LGBTQ people.

The inclusion of secretaries from various key ministries signifies a comprehensive approach to addressing these multifaceted challenges. The committee’s creation also underscores the government’s recognition of the LGBTQ community’s unique needs and its commitment to ensuring their rights and well-being are systematically addressed.

Despite their alliance, the opposition parties approached the election with individual manifestos rather than a unified platform. This disjointed strategy meant that only two of the 34 parties made explicit commitments to the LGBTQ community.

The Indian National Congress, one of the major opposition parties, promised to introduce a bill that would recognize LGBTQ couples’ civil unions. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also pledged to enact pro-LGBTQ laws and underscored the need for legislative measures to protect and promote the rights of LGBTQ people.

The LGBTQ community throughout the election campaign found itself largely overlooked in the opposition parties’ public discourse. LGBTQ rights were conspicuously absent from Indian National Congress leaders’ campaign speeches, despite the promises they made in their platforms.

Rahul Gandhi, the prominent Indian National Congress figurehead, failed to address LGBTQ rights in his speeches, even in Uttar Pradesh and other states with significant LGBTQ populations.

Twenty-eight percent of India’s transgender population lives in Uttar Pradesh. The state, along with others with substantial LGBTQ communities, saw no mention of issues that are critically important to them during Gandhi’s rallies and public speeches.

This disconnect between the promises made in manifestos and the topics discussed on the campaign trail underscores a broader issue within political campaigning, where marginalized communities often struggle to find a voice. Despite the written commitments to LGBTQ rights, the lack of vocal support during the campaign highlights the ongoing challenges in bringing these important issues to the forefront of political debate.

Several independent LGBTQ candidates, in a remarkable display of political participation, entered the fray during election campaign. They include Sunaina Kinner, a trans woman who ran for office in Jharkand state’s Dhanbad constituency.

Kinner faced considerable challenges and lost the election.

She received 3,462 votes, a modest number in the face of entrenched political dynamics. The NOTA (None of the Above) option received 7,354 votes in Kinner’s constituency, indicating a substantial number of voters were dissatisfied with all available candidates.

The BJP’s election manifesto reflected a limited focus on the broader LGBTQ community, opting instead to highlight specific initiatives for trans people. The party has promised to improve healthcare access for them.

By promising to include trans people in health programs and offer free health insurance coverage through the prime minister’s Ayushman Bharat Scheme, the BJP aims to provide essential medical support and financial protection. This initiative could potentially improve healthcare outcomes for many trans people, ensuring they receive the necessary medical attention without the burden of financial constraints.

The brevity of the party’s mention of trans issues and the absence of broader LGBTQ legislation, however, indicates the party’s stance on LGBTQ issues.

After a key meeting of the NDA on Wednesday that the BJP led, Modi was elected party leader and will submit to President Droupadi Murmu on Friday a formal request to form the government for the third consecutive time. The INDIA alliance will sit in opposition.

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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