Decriminalization of Section 377 was a watershed moment in the long-drawn and hard struggle for equality, privacy and queer rights in India. In 2013 when the Supreme Court granted third gender status to transpersons, it was the first concrete step to ending the stigma against the queer community. But what comes next? Three young minds are showing the way.
Anish Gawande, Devina Buckshee, and Smriti Deora have together compiled a list of politicians and Lok Sabha candidates who have ever held a pro-LGBTQIA+ stand in public, including those who have voted in favour of pro LGBTQIA+ legislation.
Named tantalisingly as 'The Pink List', the website is a compendium of all Queer-friendly Lok Sabha candidates contesting Lok Sabha 2019 elections.
Anish Gawande, the 22-year-old Comparative Literature graduate from Columbia University and the brain behind the project said that the list was a starting point for larger things to come in the domain of queer rights and politics. "We are at a very interesting place in the country right now. Discourse about gender rights has never been this strong and far-reaching. We thought it was a good time to take stock of where we stand in terms of political representation," Gawande, who is currently in Hisar, Haryana, told News18.
Gawande returned to India last year in May and since then he has been working with young politicians on their political campaigns and social media strategy. After touring the Maharashtran countryside for six months, Gawande came up with the idea of creating an archive of queer-friendly election candidates.
"Many think that fighting for queer rights is an urban phenomenon, that only voters and candidates in cities care about it. But so many of the candidates on our list are lesser known faces who are doing groundbreaking work in rural as well as urban areas," Gawande said.
The Pink List is divided into four categories: Trailblazers, Changemakers, Outspoken Allies, Allies. Candidates belonging to the queer community feature in the first list as they are leading the way for queer representation in politics by themselves exercising their right to political autonomy. Aam Aadmi Party's Chirpi Bhawani, Durbal Ghatak Aghadi's Jatin Mummy and Sneha Kale, and independent candidates Ashwathi Rajappan and Radha make up this category as the five LGBTQIA+ candidates contesting general elections this year.
The second category consists of non-queer candidates who have taken steps and acted upon policies to improve the lives and dignity of the queer community in India. This list includes Congress big-wigs like Sonia Gandhi, Sashi Tharoor and Milind Deora along with Bharatiya Janata Party's Joy Panda and HD Deve Gowday of Janata Dal (Secular) among others.
The third category, as the name suggests, includes 'outspoken' allies - candidates who have put forth strong, pro-queer views or anti-homophobic statements and makes active efforts to act on it. This list includes members cutting across party lines and includes Congress President Rahul Gandhi and BJP's Gautam Gambhir.
However, Gawande, who is currently helping with Congress's youngest candidate Bhavya Bishnoi's poll campaign in Haryana, said that the Pink List was not an endorsement.
"We are in no way asking for votes on the basis of this compilation. We aren't saying these candidates are "better" that the rest because they support queer rights, Devina Buckshee, co-founder and journalist at The Quint, new Delhi, said. "We just want to educate people about all the candidates who have a positive stance on queer rights and to what degree," Buckshee said. Compiling the list was just step one, Buckshee added.
What is the next step? Pat came the response - holding the candidates who win accountable. "Once the elections are over, then we could use the list to hold a mirror up to the candidates and ask them if they followed through on their promises to the queer community," Buckshee said.
However, Gawande stressed that the list was not politically motivated and in no-way acted as an endorsement of any party or candidates. "The list includes many names across parties. Some of the people who have put forth a pro-queer stand could just as easily have problematic views on Islamophobia, gender rights, caste oppression and other systemic social issues and "having a pro-LGBTQIA+ stand does not change any of that," Gawande said.
To co-founder and chief designer Smriti Deora, the list felt less like endorsement and more like a database. "We don't promote the candidate, but just let the world know that this person supports queer rights in whatever way". The Mumbai-based graphic designer said that the list could act as a database for activists politicians, policymakers and ordinary citizens who want to have a quick look at where queer politics stood today.
This is the first election since the decriminalisation of Section 377 and also the first with five LGBTQIA+ candidates. Though the ratio is deplorably skewed, the winning candidate(s) would become the first from the queer community to become MP. Gawande felt that it was important to ensure that the efforts of those leading the charge should be noted.
"Not just big names like Tharoor and Deora who have been actively vocal about their pro-queer work. The community needs to know the queer candidates and other local allies that world for empowerment of gender rights and privacy," Gawande said. He and his co-founders want to work with other organisations and influencers to increase the impact of the project. Such lists and further awareness initiatives could have a positive impact on the queer movement in India and prevent it from getting stuck in an urban echo-chamber that may not find the necessary connect with queer masses that continue to face discrimination in various aspects of life across India.
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26-year-old Sneha Kale is the first transgender to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North Central. Her concerns include inflation and equality for the LGBT community in health, education and legal fields. She works as a social worker and counsellor - and, despite being a graduate, begs for a living. She will be fighting to bring to the fore the problems faced by the widows, devadasis, backward classes and will highlight farmer suicides. "I have been attached to the community for a long time now. We face all sorts of discrimination, disappointment and no acceptance in society … I want to raise [our] questions in the Parliament," said Sneha. When asked whether she supports same-sex marriage, she said “I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, of course I support it!”. Photo and video courtesy @lokatantra.in #pinklistindia #thepinklist #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtqia #queer #queerpolitics #lgbtpolitics #lgbtqpolitics #lqbtindia #lgbtqindia #queerindia #transgender #transgenderrights #transrights #transpolitics #transgenderpolitics #lgbtactivism #lgbtqactivism #queeractivism #transgenderactivism #transactivism #lgbti #snehakale #mumbai #mumbainorthcentral
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Rahul Gandhi is an Indian National Congress candidate from Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. He came out publicly against #Section377 after the Supreme Court's 2013 judgement. As Congress President, he pushed for including LGBTQ+ rights in the Congress manifesto and held consultations with the LGBTQ+ community. #pinklistindia #thepinklist #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtqia #queer #queerpolitics #lgbtpolitics #lgbtqpolitics #lqbtindia #lgbtqindia #queerindia #transgender #transgenderrights #transrights #transpolitics #transgenderpolitics #lgbtactivism #lgbtqactivism #queeractivism #transgenderactivism #transactivism #lgbti #inc #rahulgandhi #incindia #amethi #up A post shared by The Pink List India (@pinklistindia) on
Kanhaiya Kumar is a Communist Party of India candidate from Begusarai, Bihar. Kanhaiya elaborated on the reasons he was standing for elections this year in an article written for Scroll in May 2019. In that he wrote, “We must speak for the marginalised – not only for minorities but also for trans-genders and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.” He also tweeted in support after the 377 verdict was decriminalised. #pinklistindia #thepinklist #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtqia #queer #queerpolitics #lgbtpolitics #lgbtqpolitics #lqbtindia #lgbtqindia #queerindia #transgender #transgenderrights #transrights #transpolitics #transgenderpolitics #lgbtactivism #lgbtqactivism #queeractivism #transgenderactivism #transactivism #lgbti #bihar #cpi
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Jay Panda is contesting as a Bharatiya Janta Party candidate from Kendrapada, Odisha. He introduced Tiruchi Siva’s Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014 (Rajya Sabha) in the Lok Sabha. “Stigma attached to [being transgender] is such that people try hard not to live life as they choose, but to hide their gender orientation, to hide their lifestyle. That is not a life of dignity,” he said while introducing the Bill. #PinkListIndiaChangemaker #PinkListChangemaker #Changemaker #pinklistindia #thepinklist #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtqia #queer #queerpolitics #lgbtpolitics #lgbtqpolitics #lqbtindia #lgbtqindia #queerindia #transgender #transgenderrights #transrights #transpolitics #transgenderpolitics #lgbtactivism #lgbtqactivism #queeractivism #transgenderactivism #transactivism #lgbti #jaypanda #bjp #kendrapada #odisha A post shared by The Pink List India (@pinklistindia) on