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LGBTQ+ community: 2 yrs after abrogation of Sec 377, a sneak-peak into 'ground reality'

By Abhishek Heda*

Touted as one of the biggest milestones in the movement by the LGBTQA community for equal rights, the abrogation of section 377 of the Indian penal code in 2018 by the Supreme Court was considered as a landmark judgment with an expectation that the situation of those people will considerably improve.
However, even after two years of the judgement, the ground reality remains the same to a large extent, with widespread instances of discrimination being faced by members of the LGBTQA community both in personal as well as professional life.
In my interaction with Pushpa Achanta, she enlightened me with various instances showcasing the plight of LGBTQ+ community. The most astonishing part for me was the fact that these instances of discrimination took place in a Tier-1 city, where people are expected to be more educated and progressive in their thinking in general.
Instances like harassment of transgender by the police, difficulties faced by them in enrolment into any educational institution, discrimination faced by them in various IT companies, including lower pay, lower job profiles being offered for the same qualification, and outright rejection of their job applications just show us the tip of the iceberg of the wider issue.
In my pursuit to understand the ground reality in a better manner, I reached out to Achanta, who is associate director, Solidarity Foundation, and a social rights activist who has been quite vocal about the rights of the members of the LGBT+ community through her blogs.
Through our discussions, we analyzed that the primary reason for such discrimination is the fact that even though various laws have been enacted to protect the rights, however, the perception of the society at large remains the same. There is still a social stigma attached to a member of these communities, leading to low acceptance in society.
They are still called out as “chhakka,” “hijda”, and subject to various homophobic, transphobic, and racial abuses. Not only this, there has been a subtle increase in the number of hate crimes against the LGBT+ community in India, with 181 incidents being recorded from Jan 2019 to June 2019. In 37 of these reported incidents, the victim was killed, acting as a livid testimonial that their situation is getting worse day by day.
He was brutally assaulted and locked up. His sexual preference was termed a disease. His family referred him to sadhus and quacks to change his sexual preferences
To have a better understanding of the problem, I reached out to a 28-year-old youth belonging to the community, who shared across some of his ordeals after he revealed his sexual preferences to his family and society in general. To start with, he was brutally assaulted and locked up for days, and his sexual preference was termed as a “disease.” Following this, his family referred him to various sadhus and unregistered local doctors to change his sexual preferences.
With no visible solution in sight, he was forcefully married against his will and was threatened not to disclose his true sexual preference ever. With some courage, he decided to reveal his sexual preferences; as a result, he was permanently abandoned by his family.
The trauma did not end here but continued in his professional workspace as well. As his sexual preferences were revealed, there was a sudden change in the attitude of almost all his colleagues, with racial abuses, rants, and comments being a regular phenomenon. The quality of work given to him suddenly degraded, there was visibly reduced interaction with his superiors and subordinates.
This is the story of the majority of members of this community, who, even after two years of the landmark supreme court judgment, find it hard to even reveal their true self, forget living a dignified life.
The need of the hour is to bring stricter laws against Hate crimes and mob lynching in India, with provision for hefty fines and maximum sentence. However, the biggest challenge to this menace is to change the perception of the society towards the members belonging to the LGBT community. Some of the proposed short-term and long-term measures which can be taken in this direction are

Short-term measures

  • Launching a central helpline number which will be dedicated to the members of the LGBT+ community, where they can not only report crimes against them but seek some counseling as well.
  • Legislate to specifically address anti-LGBT hate crimes, with provision for maximum sentence and hefty fines to ensure the effectiveness of the law. 
  • Issuing guidelines (similar to Vishakha guidelines for women) for corporates to form independent committees, who will be primarily responsible for ensuring fairness in the recruitment process of the companies, also they will be responsible for redressal of any sought of discrimination or abuse being carried out against the members of the LGBT+ community 

Long-term measures

  • Creating awareness and sensitizing children about the LGBT+ community, the issues faced by them in order to improve the acceptance level within the society. This can be done by tweaking the syllabus taught in primary and secondary schools, with a mandatory chapter on creating awareness about the LGBT+ community.
  • Organisation of skill-development workshops and programmes specially dedicated to the transgender community for making them financially independent. 
  • Promoting higher education for members of the transgender community by launching scholarship programmes and providing fees rebates for financially underprivileged members. 
  • In the end I would like to end with a famous quote Barbara Gittings: “Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts” 
---
*PGP in management 2019-21, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

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