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Mumbai: Demand to withdraw 'BJP-inspired' sedition charges against 51 trans persons

Counterview Desk
In a "solidarity" statement, Labia - A Queer Feminist Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LBT) Collective, has taken strong objection to sedition charges levelled against a young trans person and 50 unidentified persons for a slogan in a peaceful gathering, pointing out, such targeting against TBT community makes their lives even more vulnerable.
Suggesting that things became worse after a video calling this person as “anti-national” was shared by ex-BJP MP Kirit Somaiya and ex-CM, Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, the Collective said in a statement, "We feel great despair and rage at the ways in which this young trans person was made unsafe" following a "pride gathering", regretting, this has happened also at the best "fellow queer people."

Text:

On February 1, 2020, QAM (Queer Azaadi Mumbai, the organising body of the Mumbai Pride March) organised a Pride Solidarity gathering at Azad Maidan, in lieu of the Annual Pride March. 
During the gathering, several people raised slogans against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) while several others raised slogans to show solidarity with the multiple protests and sit-ins happening all over the country, including the one at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.
The three hour long gathering saw many speeches about issues affecting the Queer Community. There was poetry and skits and the Preamble of the Constitution was read out.
A few hours after the gathering, certain slogans were deemed questionable and anti-national by some people, and the videos captured of these slogans were released on the internet and social media. It is important to note that no one objected to the slogans during the gathering or stopped any of the slogans.
Also, no untoward incident of any kind resulted from the sloganeering. In fact, the person being held responsible for giving these slogans was called on stage to read the Preamble of the Constitution towards the end of the programme. The whole gathering followed their lead in reading the Preamble aloud.
On the next day after the gathering, some members of the organising body i.e. QAM spoke up against the raising of such slogans and issued statements outing, deadnaming and misgendering a young trans student. Subsequent to this, QAM also issued a statement distancing themselves from what happened at Azad Maidan and extending their full support and cooperation to the Azad Maidan Police.
This was accompanied by a vociferous social media blitz by some queer persons as well as politicians to target the people in the video as “anti-national”, and in fact asked for the person to be arrested. Ex-BJP MP Kirit Somaiya and ex-CM, Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, picked up on this and shared it, thus amplifying this narrative of vilification with direct appeals to the Mumbai Police to act on the same.
Taking note of all this, the Azad Maidan Police filed charges, including that of sedition, against this one identified trans student and 50 other unnamed people alleged to have taken part in the said sloganeering. As on February 5, 2020, the Sessions Court in Mumbai has denied anticipatory bail to the person first named. Few others have now been summoned to the Azad Maidan police station to give statements.
Sedition is a serious charge. What transpired at Azad Maidan does not qualify as sedition by any definition of the term. We must also recall that the sedition laws were a tool used by the British Raj to curb dissent and muzzle free speech. Several freedom fighters including Gandhi and Tilak were incarcerated under the same. A democratic republic like India has no justification to still have such laws.
The Law Commission in several of its reports has called for repealing the law, finding no place for it in a democratic society. The Supreme Court has also noted that sedition laws cannot be utilised to muzzle free speech. However the Government of this democratic country continues to utilise this oppressive colonial law in the same manner as the colonial government, towards squashing dissent of all kinds.
The actions of some of the queer community members in the city has only put many other queer lives in peril
The number of people charged with sedition has been going up since 2017. This is a clear sign that the current Government is using this draconian law to stop people from questioning it. The most recent and glaring use of this has been on the nine year olds hailing from Bidar district, Karnataka, who put up a school play against the CAA and NRC.
Many others such as Akhil Gogoi and his comrades in Assam, JNU student Sharjeel Imam, and hundreds of ordinary citizens in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere across the country have been unfairly charged under the draconian sedition law and arrested for arbitrary reasons.
In fact, the slogans raised by the persons at the Mumbai Pride solidarity gathering were precisely against this kind of targeting of activists, students and ordinary citizens around the country for raising their voices and expressing dissent which is their fundamental right.
We also want to underline the fact how damaging and traumatising this whole process of naming, sharing their photos widely is for students in general but especially for young trans and queer persons. The lives of young trans and queer persons are difficult as is and many have perhaps not yet come out about their identity to those in their families or where they live.
This targeting of them, for a slogan given in a peaceful gathering, makes their lives multiply vulnerable. They might lose the financial or material support their families might be providing them, have to vacate houses they might be living in on rent, be targeted in public spaces as their names and faces have been splashed all over as “anti-national,” and much more. Their very survival is at risk.
It is in this context that we feel great despair and rage at the ways in which this young trans person was made unsafe in their own space of a pride gathering, and that too by fellow queer people. It has been claimed that their acts, a single slogan given among many others, has endangered the whole Pride and the whole gathering.
This is far from the truth as the slogan in question was objected to only in hindsight and in fact caused no stress at the gathering. The subsequent actions of some of the queer community members in the city on the other hand have not only put many queer lives in peril but also colluded with the state in creating a chilling effect for many others beginning to claim a space within the diverse queer community.
We stand in solidarity with all the 51 persons who have been targeted in this case and demand that the charges against them be dropped immediately as baseless. We also urge the state government to recognise the organised targeting of these students by politicians for their gains and act immediately on the same.
We urge the media to sensitize themselves towards the specificities of the realities of trans and queer persons and report accordingly. We join in the voices across the country rallying against unjust laws and for the rights of all the people in the country, especially those marginalized by the current regime.

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