Section 377 and India Shining: Pronoy Rai
Guest Post by PRONOY RAI
It is 2004 all over again. India is shining. Such a difference a decade can make. BJP is on the verge of returning to power, Modi could be India’s next Prime Minister, and the many failures of the UPA could give a new lease of life to Hindutva, if it was dead at all. As India shines, the state (its judicial arm, in this case) has abandoned the queers, questioning their claim to the status of “minority”, rendering them vulnerable to brutality at the hands of the hetero-normative society and other arms of the state (police, for instance), in equal measures. Other minority groups, strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, fought against the claim to citizenship of a (sexual) minority group, decisively defeating them at the altar of justice.
Some of us queers, who stuck to every single word that was written in 2004 that went on to show how agrarian distress, farmer suicides, and saffronization of education didn’t quite add up to a shining India, were left puzzled by the reaction of the BJP to the Supreme Court verdict upholding section 377 in its original, pristine self. You’d think that the shrewd right-wing would take on the first opportunity to invoke a very obvious ancient Indian “culture of homosexuality” to make a progressive argument in favor of decriminalization. You’d assume that in a ravaging hunger to return to power, they would try to bring on board every single group that they can, maybe only later to abandon them, but at least carry them along through elections. Alas, no. For the BJP, India is still shining, and this shining confidence is perhaps sufficient to help them march into 7 Race Course Road, next year.
India is shining in a Brahmanical interpretation of Hinduism that in line with puritan Victorian, Christian arguments on morality, is unwilling to even read its own history. For the BJP, after all, India’s history was the history of struggles to form a Hindu right-wing political identity, not some obscure subaltern history of peasant and laborer struggles. In that moment, I wonder how the queer groups would have fought off a BJP argument against homosexuality, had we not had an ancient history to fall back upon. What one means here is that history or no history, arguments favoring rights can only be helped by historical facts and precedents, but history should not be a necessary ground to formulate an argument on human rights.
As India shines, we ask what’s next for the queer population. Right-wing queers (oh yes, they exist!) are feeling cheated at the hands of a party that was promising gains of surplus accumulation to the urban, middle class. Those of us on the “Left” have been left abandoned by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other dalit, bahujan parties, whose causes were unwaveringly (and perhaps, sometimes, uncritically) supported by the out and proud jhola carriers. Mostly on account of the political decimation of the organized Left in India and partially on account of their assumed support for all minority rights, no one really cared about what the Left parties had to say. One can only be thankful for the fact that in such hard times, they did not come up with some archaic, orthodox argument favoring class conflicts over every other struggle! The show stoppers were, surprisingly, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The support that has been extended by the Congress and AAP, without much consideration for how their support might potentially erode their vote banks, perhaps tell us one of the two things – there is more to party politics than Machiavellianism or that the Indian voting public probably does not care more or less about this issue than what the BJP makes it out to be. The recent public statement by Rajnath Singh now almost sounds irrational as he used queer politics to demonstrate the gap between India and Bharat. He’d probably hate this comparison, but his unwillingness to recognize the existence of queer people in provincial India makes him sound exactly like the former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadanijad, who argued in his address at Columbia University that gays don’t exist in Iran! My broader point is that there perhaps might be politically conservative arguments that could be supported by some construction of logic, but BJP’s stand fails any test of reason, “oriental” or “western”!
A very interesting argument I have been reading, especially from the likes of the delightful Ashley Tellis, is that this is a bourgeois struggle. The argument almost leaves people like us, who opposed and will always continue to oppose the rise of NaMo, who stood and will always stand against the extremely violent Indian state that has been legitimating its survival on the bodies of dead Kashmiris, indigenous Chattisgarhis and Jharkhandis, and Nagas and Axomiyas, who have been fervent allies of women’s movements against barbaric violence, and who have been voracious supporters of campaigns like Right to Food and Work and whatnot, in a state of remorse. Did I not fulfil my duties as a politically conscious individual? Have I not passed some imagined test that confirms to the hetero-normative world that my consciousness is not just colored by my sexual orientation? Is there a chance we could be less harsh on ourselves and just choose one enemy to deal with, especially, when our struggles, in their broadest sense, will only make India (and Bharat) a relatively livable place for lesbians, gays, and trans-people?
So, let’s, first, just like in 2004, acknowledge that India is not shining and that we have just taken a giant leap backwards. Let’s, perhaps, also see that it is not yet the time to read movement for queer rights in India from the lens of Jasbir Puar’s “homonationalism”. Gay bodies are still bodies that symbolize death in India and are not bodies that are being productively mainstreamed into the processes of capitalist accumulation. Our struggle is more “primitive”. Our struggle will never end, but perhaps we must wonder what our next steps should be as we not just face an uncertain future in India, but a series of heartbreaks resulting from abandoning by fellow minority groups. As Gautam Bhan mentioned in his response to the media last week, “…you know what is daunting? What is daunting is when you’re 15 years old and are terrified of who you are. If we have survived that, the Supreme Court does not know what fear looks like. We know fear… in the long course of human history, dignity moves forward, and it will move forward in this case.” Amen to that.
Pronoy Rai is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Illinois. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.