Veteran Congress leader and Member of Parliament Dr Shashi Tharoor was caught in a candid mood last Saturday when he addressed a largely queer audience as a keynote speaker at the second, online edition of the Rainbow Lit Fest.
The festival, which is India's first and largest celebration of LGBTQIA literature and art, hosted the MP, a queer ally, on its two-day digital festival called 'Digital and One'. In a conversation with author and festival director Sharif D Rangnekar, Tharoor said that India has always been a queer-friendly nation.
In the free-wheeling conversation, Tharoor spoke of the need to normalize queer identities, queer representation in politics and of the need for an anti-discrimination law that does not just prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender but protects all minorities.
Tharoor felt that though political representation was important, any such effort needed to be highly calibrated with the political realities of India. He pointed out the importance of political parties in a parliamentary system such as in India, impressing upon the fact that political leaders with a singular cause may not be able to win elections in a country as diverse as India.
In that respect, the MP, who in 2015 had unsuccessfully tabled a private member’s Bill in the House seeking decriminalization of consensual sex between adults of the same gender, said that instead of forming exclusively LGBTQIA political parties, the community may benefit more by creating a pressure group that influences politics and legislation.
The 'Inglorious Empire' author, however, was not opposed to leaders from the queer community joining political parties of their choosing.
In April 2017, the MP had introduced the ‘Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill’ in the Lok Sabha in yet another attempt to decriminalize same-sex encounters in order to give constitutional rights to homosexuals.
Reiterating the need for the Bill, Tharoor felt that it was essential for India to come up with a principle of anti-discrimination in order to save the country international embarrassment as most Western liberal democracies had decriminalized homosexuality decades ago and even permitted marriage or civil union rights to queer persons.
"Pick your battles"
Despite the decriminalization of Section 377 in 2019, the LGBTQIA community in India continues to suffer stigma, discrimination and prejudice, be it in the form of inheritance laws denying same-sex partners, denial of marriage rights. Responding to the issue, Tharoor said that courts were the only way.
Tharoor felt that the current government was likely to oppose gay marriage and wondered if in the present environment, the fight for gay marriage is one that the community can win. In keeping in mind the challenges, Tharoor said, "Pick your battles wisely".
The MP did however assert that it is the duty of our legislatures and courts of India to "affirm a pluralist India that accommodates all the identities within our country, lest we undermine the freedom of identity and freedom of expression that is the backbone of our democracy".
You can catch the full interview here.